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Sergiy Taradajko

The Horde’s Calamity[1]


Translated from Ukrainian by Camilla Khromova


                                                         The German will say: ‘You are Mongols’.

                                                         ‘Mongols, that is plain!’

                                                          T.Shevchenko. To my fellow-countrymen,

                                                          in Ukraine and not in Ukraine, living, dead

                                                          and as yet unborn my friendly epistle

                                                                    (Translated by Vera Rich)


A Thousand Plateaus’ by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari is probably the latest great book on philosophy. What is the most striking, the book, as if remembering classical examples, proves it possible to create your own world view. What is more, this can be done without any of well-known ‘categories’ and philosophical notions. All their ‘concepts’ and multiple terms were taken from some other sciences staying too far from philosophy, but used here

in a much wider sense.

What can be taken as an example is the confrontation between

the Sedentary’ and ‘the Nomadic’. Though these well-known notions refer to different ways of living (in a historical and very concrete sense), Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari extend them to conceiving any social relations and, what is more, to certain modes of thinking.

Literally, these notions are concerned with the position on the earth ground. ‘The Sedentary indicates the permanent and even habitable place, while ‘the Nomadic’ evidently suggests continual moving. Already from here onward many things can be inferred. Notice, the sedentary state not only determines the forms of living, but also changes and transforms the earth itself. Even the first sign of the sedentary life, a dwelling, highly affects the way the environment is perceived. It is a starting point for a new day to begin every morning – since it is just from here on that the four cardinal points of the world are determined, certain directions and distances. Weird as it might seem, but such small and humble a dwelling can arrange the comprehension of the whole world.

The best analogy of this viewing can be Descartes’ coordinate system. It concerns with a limitless surface determined from virtually a single point where the entire axis cross. In a sense, the point has no value, being nothing but a ‘zero’, however, it is from this very point that the whole surface is determined. By the way, the given perspective proves how greatly the sedentary life has influenced our world view.

Evidently, it was on the landscape that the noted directions and guide-lines initially emerged, with paths laid and roads built. Like lines, strokes and furrows, they came as if drawn on the ground to define the space. Already in ‘Anti-Oedipus’, their previous work, Gilles Deleuse and Felix Guattari wrote about ‘the inscribing socius, a basis of social life which is registered, marked and recorded on the full body of the earth’ (Vol.1). Though in the other context, yet one can feel so close a relation between these ground marks and the regulations of a social order. 

To make the point clear, let us remember that the sedentary life involved definite activities, above all, farming, so the mentioned furrows were really made on the ground. However, what is crucial is not this. In fact, every plot and site was virtually limited, that is surrounded with boundaries. They are set between the cultivated and uncultivated land, or between the land cultivated by a one person and that cultivated by some other. In this way the boundaries and furrows were increasingly getting related to the private property. Moreover, just remember how slow a job the farming is. After sowing seeds a farmer had not only to wait for the harvest, but also to reserve his right to harvest. No doubt, different cultures and civilizations handle the issue differently, but a general tendency is already felt. In fact, the state of sedentary leaves such marks and tracks on the territory which eventually turn into the forms of (in the widest sense) ‘legal’ regulation. It may well be said that civilizations of the kind were originally apt to literacy, that is, to

the written word.

It is not without reason, that G.Deleuze and F.Guattari contrasted ‘the Sedentary’ with ‘the Nomadic’ by taking into account precisely the presence (or absence) of these clearly drawn marks. In the first case, it is a ground with boundaries or ‘a striated space’, though in the other case, it is ‘a smooth space’, an unmarked surface.

The idea of ‘the Nomadic’ being treated in terms of an open space is quite comprehensible. In contrast to ‘the Sedentary’ there is no definite point for all the roads to come from, nor any clearly cut marks;  and the dwelling actually appears mobile like a tent or a caravan. You can stop anywhere you choose and any moment you can set about going further. This certainly resulted from the very essence of the economy based on cattle breeding.

The territory here is primarily a pasture. As it tends to get exhausted very quickly, you have to move to a new one. That is why there is really no marks and signs, which could anyhow be fixed on the surface. It is the very nature of a steppe to be vast and boundless. What is essential is its ability to serve as a pasture. The entire strategy is quite evident: more territories and pastures are to be found and occupied. (Let us return to this point later.) In addition, the practice of herding is no less remarkable. The main job is to prevent the flock from scattering, thus to make the animals keep together. To be controlled the livestock must be counted. As was earlier said, ‘the Sedentary’ had long been apt to word. So ‘the Nomadic’ was obviously apt to number. And finally, such live masses can be more handily and easily herded and moved only when ‘governed’ by one and a single will…

Thus ‘the Sedentary’ was enrooted in a delimited space, where some divisions, debates and arguments were inevitable to occur. This, in turn, forced to search the ways of legal regulation. Of course it was not the law forms of nowadays, but rather a tendency. ‘The Nomads’ as we have seen, were not concerned with delimitation and therefore persistently pushed up to new pastures. It should be noted, that contrary to ‘the Sedentary’ world, where introduction and awareness of one’s rights as if stirred the development of an individual, ‘the Nomadic’ world was somewhat crowd-like, throng-like and even herd-like. Hence, the despotic forms of government were known to be widespread there.

It might be remembered that Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari laid their emphasis on some other sides of the issue. They perceived ‘the Sedentary’, in its full maturity, as ‘the State mechanism’, while they considered ‘the Nomadic’ as ‘a war machine’(Vol.2). Quite noticeable, they regarded the state aspect of ‘the Sedentarywith less, if any, favor. When it comes to ‘the Nomadic’, however, what is felt is slightly romantic but quite definite sympathy. It is not too hard to explain. In fact, the similar feelings are rather typical of European intellectuals. Anything related to a State (with its disposition to order and bureaucracy) is treated as limits to freedom. Not surprisingly, ‘the Nomadic’ might well be seen as a proper way to avoid limits.

The feeling can well be appreciated, but it fails to account for the historical opposition between ‘the Sedentary’ and the ‘Nomadic’. To show how it happened, it is not enough to set various examples. What should be found out is, primarily, some events in history when ‘the Sedentary’ and ‘the Nomadic’ worlds really had to collide, when, as Oswald Spengler puts it, ‘the men of two Cultures have looked into one another’s eyes’ (1928: 87).

The strongest collision took place in the 13th century when Europe got aware of the Mongol danger and the Rus had the severest impact of invasion. It was there that ‘the Sedentary’ and the Nomadic’ clashed.

What must immediately be said is that the first instances of the Rus mentioned in written chronicles (it is precisely where its history originates from) were closely related to the State emerging. Anyhow but the occasion makes ‘the Varangians’ come to mind. The times passed forever when ‘the patriots’ among historic scholars challenged ‘the Normans theory’ on account that it allegedly treated the Slavic people as unable to create any state. Today there is no doubt left, that it was really these Scandinavians, who introduced the State and Law in the Rus.

Let us turn to the story about the ‘Varangians being invited’. Quite evidently, they would not wait for invitation and thus came there on their own will. Then, how should the words of chronicle be interpreted? Remember that, sick and tired of intestine wars and disorder, the native people said to themselves: ‘Let us seek a prince who may rule over us and judge us according to the Law’ (1953: 59).

Quite evidently, it was not those who ‘invited’ but rather the chronic-writer himself who formulated the above statement. Much later after the event, he wanted to explain the nature of such a ruling power… The attention has commonly been drawn to thisrule over’. Closely examined, however, the statement appears to touch upon the way the power was exercised. Take this: ‘judge us according to the Law’. It is ‘to the Law’ that proves the most important. Apparently, a medieval chronic-writer must have interpreted the law much more differently than a modern man. But in the given context, it should be admitted that the State introduction was directed to the type of ruling founded just on the Law. It was actually in accord with the European standards which were virtually brought by the Scandinavians.

As for the Rus, it should not be regarded as a unitary state. Otherwise, it might be a naïve transference of later perceptions, either of Russian or Soviet kind, to utterly different an epoch. It should be admitted, there were really a great variety of tribes, with innumerous peculiarities of their own. In addition, with Prince Rurik’s kin branching, his off-springs, who initially ‘sat’ in Novgorod and Kiev, at length came to create a lot of new ruling centers. Again, this absence of entity should be acknowledged without any regret for ‘the feudal disunited state’, (for it would be the earlier noted attribution of foreign criteria to the middle age).

Evidently, the disunity of the sort was but a manifestation of ‘the Sedentary’, liable by nature to delimitation and demarcation. It is just the features, that lead to creating any notions of property and legal regulations.

But the events turned the other way; the disaster of 1237-1240 broke out…’ The Sedentary’ clashed with ‘the Nomadic’. To underline again, the nomads’ policy and lifestyle surprisingly resembled pasturing. Primarily all those masses had to move to more and more new territories, after devastating everything around. Their army and enormous transport were strikingly consolidated. The unity and unanimity of the enormous crowds was even more firmed by the subunits’ organization order. It was on the number that the nomads’ army was built, with the subunits named ‘tens’, ‘hundreds’, ‘thousands’ and t’mas(ten thousands).

The nomads, however, appeared to have enough features common to those of the sedentary people. First of all it is the way the power was inherited. Similarly, a strong ruling dynasty was set up, with Genghis Khan descendants not only exercising power but also obtaining great (and clearly delimited) ‘uluses’ or their own plots of land, spacious enough to contain whole countries. The sons of Genghis Khan were the first to obtain such plots of land and it was the eldest son, Jochi, who was granted the western areas. That is how theUlus of Jochiemerged, later named ‘The Golden Horde’. Then it was the son of Jochi, Batu, who eventually led the military campaign towards the Rus and further to the western countries…

As is known, a great number of tribes from many sides collided at the time. Therefore, in perceiving and depicting the age, one should refrain from either favor or (what is worse) hostility to certain ethnic groups and nations. Otherwise, one could not but have a distorted and perverted picture. Hence the concepts of ‘the Nomadic’ and ‘the Sedentary’ are better to be held to so that to ensure both integral understanding and required open-minded approach.

In terms of the armed forces, it was the nomads who had a great and absolute advantage. Different researches are known to stress, above all, their numerical superiority. However, the cited quantity, on the first hand, is rather doubtful, for it is deduced by collateral indexes. On the second hand, it is only ‘an armchair scientist’, so to say, who can regard this superiority as a key factor. On a battle it is not the number of troops to be decisive but their mobility and rush. Those were the features which distinguished the nomads from origin, from birth. It is where their formidable and mighty weapon came from; the weapon that was to change the course of history – the horseman fight (1987).

No less important, of course, was the already noted consolidation. In case of the war, this quality ensured both extraordinary martial discipline and absolute control, and, above all, coordination of every unit and element’s action. It was precisely what the armed forces defending the sedentary world were known to miss out for.

It would be worth repeating that there is no point in complaining about the disunity of the feudal state, for this feeling could but indicate a historic misunderstanding of the epoch and ‘the Sedentary’ itself. It was the sedentary life style that originally created delimitation and natural separation. Hence, any armed forces were too difficult to be gathered and brought to the battlefield. Even more difficult was to provide joint actions, while in the war time it is primarily consolidation, coordination and utter obedience to the order that are the most decisive. In a word, the sedentary world seemed unfit to wage wars. On the contrary, it was in the warfare, thatthe Nomadic’ proved at its best. (Not surprisingly, Deleuze and Guattari named it a ‘war machine’).

Actually such a fighting on the battlefield occurred not so often. The nomadic forces, like an avalanche, simply advanced on the planes, taking over all settlements and towns… It was here again that the profound opposition between ‘the Sedentary’ and ‘the Nomadic’ appeared the most acute. In fact, an ancient Russian town was a settlement surrounded either by banks, or walls, or at least paling. To think generally, there again a boundary, a limit or a mark to be easily noticed, thus an essential manifestation of the sedentary lifestyle.

When a town refused to surrender voluntary, it was at once besieged, and the nomads set about preparing for the assault. They drew out mighty machines capable to hurl stones. Presumably borrowed from China, those machines served to weaken, to breach and finally to break down the walls. So it was on the wall boundary that the ‘sedentary people’ set their last hope for salvation. This confirmed once more how essential that boundary was. In contrast, the Nomads viewed those walls and boundaries as something fully unnatural, and, therefore, obliged to be destroyed. 

It might well be said, that those lands were doomed. Certainly, there revealed itself the already familiar strategy of the nomads, that of persistent moving to new pastures. Therefore the goal of their seizing new territories was exclusively plunder. It could be property, particularly live-stock, or people, whether for working, or selling or, more often for new wars. Not accidentally, the first step Batu Khan took was census, – here again tens, hundreds, thousands and ‘t’mas’ (ten thousands). In addition, those lands were laid under tribute…

One could ask: ‘What is so special about this practice?’ Were not wars for plunder (including the live labor force) and tribute rather common at the time? Did not the earlier discussed Varangians practice the same? However, in case of the nomads all these features were at most essential and decisive. Having taken so many lands, ‘Ulus of Jochi turned into a powerful state, with the real capital, the City of Sarai, built up on the Volga bank. All these might seem the signs of ‘the Sedentary’. Actually, however, the super-state, set up by the nomads all but reproduced the already known features of ‘the Nomadic’. It also took over new lands, kept them in ‘a single ruling hand’, secured obedience and consumed resources.

Whatever mighty, such a state appeared short-lived. Interestingly, it was the principle of the Sedentary that ruined it. Not that the enslaved tribes took the courage to revolt, but because the signs of ‘the Sedentary’ emerged just in the middle of the ‘Nomadic’ world. Indeed, new and new Genghis Khan’s off –springs put claims on his inheritance, and The Horde eventually saw division into separate ‘uluses’. Here again the familiar delimitation, the key sign of ‘the Sedentary’, which inevitably brought forth arguments and hostility. 

It is from this point that the most interesting things began. Though the Horde finally broke down, something queer occurred on the lands where it had been present for so long. A new state came into being with ‘the nomadic’ practice revealing itself on the entirely ‘sedentary’ background. The practice must have been firmly adopted since the time of the Horde’s dominance. All these happened just on the lands of the North-Eastern Rus. In accord with the nomads’ nature already depicted here, the new state began expanding to the adjacent territories and at length took over a spacious area comparable with Genghis Khan’s empire. The expansion was not a single and temporal action. Because in this case such a striving to ‘gather lands’ was getting obsessive (and even threatening). As though the history stopped; and the state, in spite of all the following changes, seemed to merely reproduce its ‘nomadic’ features. Thus: ‘It is true that the nomads have no history; they only have geography’ (Vol.2: 393).

        By the way, the South-Western Rus, which too suffered from the nomads’ invasion, had far less impact of it further. It was already in the 14th century that those lands got dominated by Lithuania, and later by Poland. It was a hard time either, but all the occasions took place in the sedentary environment, so the culture backbone was not broken. It was then that the North-Eastern and South-Western Rus went each its own way. This proves how indefinite and conventional the very notion of the Rus is, though this statement may, of course, sound uncommon…

To return to the ‘nomadic’ inheritance, the new lands ‘gatheringaimed not merely at joining them but at destroying any clear-cut boundaries. The nomads, perhaps unconsciously, accepted those boundaries as unnatural and, what is more, hostile. Not accidentally, what they boasted of was just their lands being vast and boundless (‘one sixth of the globe’). Noticeably, it was not only the spaciousness of area to be meant here, but rather the absence of any borderlines and bounds. Not surprisingly, for every bound and boundary as if reminds of ‘the Sedentary’ and therefore is really alien and hostile to ‘the Nomadic’. It is quite clear, that in order to be completedthe new lands gathering’ had to expand worldwide, to reach a global scale. Not without reason the 20th century was concerned with (and rather seriously) the ‘world revolution’.

Generally speaking, ’the Russian communism’ can be said to have few, if any, ideas and practices common with Karl Marks’ learning. In terms of the Nomadic’, however, everything seems quite clear. First of all, again the formidable crowds of people are gathered and consolidated, – in hostels and hut, in barracks and camps. It was probably to remove people from ‘the Sedentary’ that these dwellings were intended to. All the people got moved and mixed out, so there is again breaking down any boundaries, limits and bounds, whether of social, or of linguistic, or of property kind. What is required is wholly amorphous and utterly obedient crowd.

It is not surprising that the most hostile personage for a resent ‘nomad’ is a common farmer, an individual peasant, a ‘kulak’. It is he, who, by cultivating his land, restoresthe sedentary’ world. That is why he must be the first to be utterly destroyed. It is quite clear that the same events happen as before; all vital resources are taken away from the peasant and he is doomed to awful starvation.

We must notice that there was nothing particularly outstanding about such a ‘taking away’. The terms ‘confiscation’, ‘nationalization’, simplywithdrawal’ and ‘expropriation’ were firmly enrooted in the lexicon of the time. Any legal, so to say, grounds of the given actions were not even regarded. This is the manifestation of totally different civilization – of the nomadic’ forms of life. As we have already seen, the Law can arise only in the ‘sedentary’ environment, with the delimitation of different persons’ interests. In the nomadic’ world, with its natural desposition to crowds and throngs, this could not occur.

Moreover, ‘the Sedentary’ originally aimed at certain productivity: that is agriculture, crafts, industry. Hence there is a tendency to further demarcation of labor (the other, by the way, form of delimitation) and to development of commerce. The commerce itself always rested on the legal outlook, for any selling and buying activity was based on mutual obligations, those of the seller, who provided the required goods, and of the buyer, who guaranteed payment.

The nature of ‘the Nomads was absolutely different. Born on the pasture, they were apt not to produce, but to pick up and take away anything available. The history indeed stopped here. The vital resources were obtained  in one and the same way; either by ‘confiscating’ the estates of the previous land lords, or by expropriating the treasures of the Church, or by taking away all the bread of peasants; or, for example, by exploiting the cheapest labor force, or, like today, by extracting oil and gas.

As we have already noticed, ‘the Nomadic’ was always inclined to concentrate power and mostly in one and only hands. However, with the territory so vast and boundless, the absolute power was rather hard to actually and practically exercise. Some deputies were required, like those Darughachiof the Horde, who virtually supported the interests of that supreme power. They made up a caste, which took place between the supreme ruler and the population. On the one side, they cringed and groveled before the Khan to receive ‘a jarlig (a document to confirm the obtained authorities); from the other side, they, so to say, redeemed at their heart’s content all the humiliations at the cost of subordinate lands. It was only loyalty that the supreme power found important, that is why it did not take into account any abuse or outrage. Of course, the injustice and lack of rights were at large here. Not the lack of particular persons’ rights, but the absence of the Right and Law itself.

To remember, born on the pasture, the first thing the ‘nomads’ did was to lay the conquered lands under tribute. They were wonderfully ingenious in establishing requisitions and exactions. As a matter of fact, it was primarily for collecting tribute that the Daranghachi were required. Thusto obtain’, ‘to charge’, and to collectbecame the sense of existence for all kinds of officialdom which formed there later. Corruption was assuming such a scale that eventually it was accepted as natural.

As though recalling their old nature, ‘the Nomads’, with already familiar persistence, are moving up to the neighboring lands. In the same way they are seeking to concentrate these lands round a single center, to restore the seemingly long forgotten super-state. However, in perceiving the nature of these inclinations, one important issue should be pointed out: ‘the Nomadic’ is possible to be withstood and resisted. What we must do is to guard and defend our boundary – the essential sign of the ‘Sedentary’.

At length neither mere delimitation, nor separation, nor simply going other way proved enough. Far more important (and complicated) is to gain this internally. The centuries under the Horde’s order could not but affect the consciousness, because the enforced concentration prevented the ideas of sovereignty and absolute value of an individual. It resulted in deeply enrooted disrespect for the human being’s most essential rights. Thus, the foundation for any valid and actual legal relations is absent. Still nowadays the proprietary rights appear, so to say, uncertain; and obtaining property on entirely artificial ground as well as dispossessing it looks too ordinary.

Quite obviously, this profound delimitation should involve not only land ownership relations. For it is probably the most important principle of modern and civilized life. Remember a classical caution of separating power into judicial, executive and legislative. These are again forms of delimitation without which no social mechanisms can work. Certainly, the most essential is to ensure the rights of this, so to say, ordinary person. It must be the concern not only of the person but, first and foremost, of the whole society.




Cardini, F. (1987) Alle radici della cavalleria medievale, Firenze:

     La Nuova Italia.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (2004) Anti-Oedipus, London and New York:

     Continuum. Vol. 1 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 2 vols.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (2004) A Thousand Plateaus, London and

     New York: Continuum. Vol. 2 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 2 vols.

Spengler, O. (1928) The Decline of the West, New York: Alfred A.Knopf.

     Vol. 2.

The Russian Primary Chronicle, Laurentian Text (1953), Cambridge, MA:

     The Mediaeval Academy of America.

[1] Published in Ukraine (Vsesvit 9-10, 2013)