Sunday, 21 December 2014

Chapter 7

Arkadi awoke later, at sunset. Scraps of blue showed through a sky closed in by white and leaden clouds scuttling off to the west. A difficult case had kept him sitting up until dawn opposite silent, tight-mouthed Maria Pavlovna, whose glance was direct when it fell on you, yet evasive when you tried to catch her eye, and that brute Terentiev, with his fat blond face and his disgusting way of licking his chops and of pulling his upper lip back over his bright red gums when he laughed. The file on the Schwaber case had been passed on from one hand to another. Terentiev indicated the examining magistrate’s conclusion with the black-rimmed nail of his sausage-like finger: “guilty and dangerous.” But what if they were telling the truth, these Schwabers? The father, the mother, the older son and daughter all stubbornly gave the same story, which sometimes seemed strikingly sincere and at other times like an absurd denial in the face of the obvious. The spy had lived with them. They had passed on letters to third parties, received messages for him, lied to cover his indiscretions, kept a suitcase containing his code. They insisted they knew nothing about it; that it was all simple; that they had thought they were dealing with an ordinary, rather pleasant man. Who were they? None of the three judges had ever seen them. Arkadi pored over their signatures with a strange inner tension. Under hers, the girl had written in a schoolgirl scrawl: “I swear before the Virgin we are all innocent, Olga Schwaber.” This evocation of the Virgin made Terentiev’s lip curl.
“So,” he said, “that would make four coincidences!”
“Four coincidences,” repeated Maria Pavlovna with raised eyebrows.
“They were duped,” said Arkadi.
“One coincidence per head: nineteen years old, twenty-one (student at the Institute of Technology, Catholic), forty-four (graduate of the school for the Daughters of the Nobility, religious, monarchist), fifty-three (noble, rentier, former landlord, member of the Constitutional-Democratic Party…).” Rich religious nobles, “class enemies throughout every fibre of their beings,” wrote the examining magistrate. “By the way, who was the magistrate?” “Zvereva.”
“Ah, yes, that ugly little woman – still young, always well dressed, zealous.”
“But atill,” replied Arkadi, “the suitcase with the code, without which there would be no case: they brought it out themselves at the end of the search. Babin was ready to leave, without having seized anything.”
Terentiev broke out in a deep loud laugh:
“But that was their ultimate ploy! They were convinced we knew everything from Procope. How do you explain Procope’s report?”
“Procope is an interested party.”
Here Maria Pavlovna broke in. Her voice was thoughtful, almost distant:
“Procope is a swine, that’s true. But up to now he has always been a reliable agent. And he is supervised by Zachary.”
“You know very well that Zachary is a bigger swine.”
It was the eleventh case to be judged that night. Dawn showed at the window. Maria Pavlovna said:
“I’m calling for a vote. Terentiev?”
Arkadi stared down at the blue-covered file and felt the weight of two pairs of eyes pressing in on him – one glance was sensual, mocking, revolting, like a rude nudge; the other cold, severe sad – detecting, perhaps in his indecision, a sign of weakness, of nervous fatigue, of unconscious revulsion against the task. The word was wretched out of his mouth before he was fully conscious of it and fell onto the file like an invisible seal:
“Death.” Said Maria Pavlovna impassively.
“I’ll sign.”
Terentiev countersigned.
It was over, the inner nightmare subsided. Maria Pavlovna proposed adjourning the next cases until Wednesday’s meeting. They rose. Terentiev, apathetic again, was now nothing more than a big red-faced slob with sparse, nearly colourless eyebrows. He appeared to droop slightly, staring out the window at the white roofs and, in answer to Maria Pavlovna’s friendly inquiring glance, he murmured: “My youngest boy has scarlet fever.”
Arkadi, before going home, wandered for a short while around the vast deserted square, bathed in a strange, extremely pale blue dawn glow. The great calm of the stones, the snow, and the dawning day seemed to enter him from every pore. Like the cool of the water when the swimmer dives in, his skin burning. Reassured, he thought: Tomorrow I’ll go see Olga. Then he realised that a coincidence of names had weighed on his powers earlier. Olga. He thought about her as he got into bed in his messy room where Daghestan weapons with beautifully etched silver scabbards lay tossed on the divan. Olga. He had only to close his eyes and she was present. This was a different freshness than that of the dawn in the square: a bland freshness as calm and luminous as the late-afternoon sun reflected on the windowpanes.
Olga clapped her hands when he entered.
“I knew you would come today. I knew it! See, I was waiting.”
She placed her hands on his shoulders, looked into his eyes, and said:
“I woke up at four o’clock last night. I felt you were thinking about me. Tell the truth: did you think about me at four o’clock?”
It was too dark for her to be able to detect the somewhat forced smile with which he answered, believing he was lying:
Olga clapped her hands again.
“I knew it! I knew it!”
He held her off with a gesture as she was about to throw herself into his arms. She could see his smile better. She felt his suppleness and his toughness. His soul as strong as his muscles, whose least movement had a masterful precision. He dropped himself onto the divan, crossed his legs – tall boots glistening- and said:
“Let me look at you, I feel so good.”
“I’ll make some tea,” she answered.
She was happily aware of the red glow of his cigarette in the semidarkness. She loved to move about in the invisible light of eyes following her from the far end of a dimly lighted room. Nowhere in the world could anyone ever give this man a greater feeling of calm, a more secure rest, a surer joy. She knew this. And the warmth of his gaze resting on her, soft at first, then imperious like a magnet, enveloped her wholly, imparted new suppleness to her movements. Somewhere, deep inside, her whole being cried out that this was an immense happiness. When she was sure that he couldn’t make out her face, she laughed silently with all her pretty teeth, with her depthless, shining eyes. Then she shut them for a moment, motionless, content with the single thought – he is here- ecstatic in delicious anticipation of hands ready to touch her.
She was tall and lissom, glowing all over with the multiple lustre of her eyes, whose long golden lids were always blinking as if to veil the brilliance of her gaze, of her sleek hair in which a touch of sunlight seemed to be captured forever, of her slender neck. Arkadi smoked. This female form filled his eyes and, far beyond his eyes, his mind, which forgot itself. And within him a wild-animal heat slowly came to life.
For her, he emerged from a darkness too frightening even to think about. There reigned a law of blood, incomprehensible yet necessary, since he was fulfilling it; he who was so pure, so strong, so calm after the mysterious labour of his nights. (She had only tried to question him once. He took her head between his hands: “Not a word about all that, my dove. Never. We are making Revolution. It’s a great, great thing…” Olga repeated: “A great, great thing.” Those words were engraved on her mind. Whatever she learned, whatever anyone told her, she repeated it to herself to regain her confidence. There was great deal of silence between them…)
“I promised Fuchs we would see him together. He has drawn a huge map, imagine…”
“Let’s go,” he said joyfully.
Arkadi was feeling light and vibrant, as when, at eighteen, in his village of Adjaris-Tskhahi, he would bound into the circle of clapping hands, one hand on his hip, the other on the back of his neck, with his dagger held tight at his waist, and dance – lighter, nimbler, and with greater endurance than anyone else.
The visiting card tacked to the door of the neighbouring room read:
Under the ancien regime, old Fuchs had lived rather well by his modest talents. The best dealers knew their way to his studio. His works could be found in the homes of patrons of the arts. Rasputin had liked them. Fuchs was the originator of those bathing girls with airy gestures who moved in or out of the waves as if offering themselves to love, wearing just enough to be more naked than they would have been if entirely nude, borne on the light, smiling and sensual. He had spent twenty years painting them over and over again, aware of his mediocrity and good workmanship, conscious that the shoulder which he finished off with a last touch would hold the eye and kindle, in older men, certain furtive sparks whose appearance he watched for, in the prudent gaze of his visitors. “Ah, signore,” he would say to himself, rubbing his hands together, “this too is an art.”
Even today, in this humble little room where a few carpets and some unsalable knickknacks in the worst of Viennese taste barely recalled better times, ex-dealers, ruined naturally, living off illicit trafficking, still sometimes came to ask him for “a red-haired bather, something a la Rubens, you understand?” for a mysterious client. – For, on the other side of the river, at the end of an empty street, in a vast frozen apartment, an aged man who, in order to feed the last of his great Danes, the only living being he had left with him, was selling his ex-mistress’ old-fashioned dresses, was waiting anxiously for “the red-haired bather a la Rubens” as formerly he waited for a living woman.
Fuchs, who had been busy painting the emblem of Labour surmounted by a figure of “Revolution” with the straight nose of a Greek goddess for the flag of the Porcelain Makers’ Union, immediately changed easels. He painted from memory now. One of his models had had precisely the Rubens complexion, but he had seen her for the last time back in 17, stouter and sunburned, wearing the uniform of the Women’s Battalion whose sorry end at the hands of the sailors on the night of the victorious insurrection is now legend. – Another, a thin brunette who used to pose for his Sevillanas, walked the central prospect every night, between the Fontanka Bridge, guarded by its noble horse tamers, and Caravan Street. She was often alone on that little-used sidewalk. On the other side you could see the red, rectilinear façade of Anichkov Palace, its corner topped by the delicious golden bulb of its chapel.
Fuchs accosted her as she strolled along, kissing her hand a little farther up than necessary. She lived in a small inside room on the top floor of an ordinary biggish apartment house. The furniture was covered with worn lace. Pictures of young officers leaned against empty cologne bottles. She still had fairly clean underthings, which she herself washed in the kitchen; she didn’t remove her high-laced boots to make love – that would take to long; on the other hand, she was good at spurring her males gently above the calf… Fuchs rather fancied this Lyda.
A knock came at the door. Fuchs quickly turned the Rubens-skinned girl to the wall. Olga and Arkadi filled the room with a virile grace. Arkadi, completely relaxed, a friendly smile revealing his fine teeth, scrutinised the fussily attentive old man. Short in stature, small-featured, a white goatee like an old faun.
“This comrade,” said Olga, “is interested in your chronicle of the Revolution…”
“I’m thinking of the future,” said Fuchs seriously.
Each day he would go out and get the newspapers, which was not an easy task since very few were for sale. Crafty and cautious like a thief, he sometimes had to peel the freshly posted pages off the walls, a risky undertaking. He studied them. It was his favourite job each day, the one which gave meaning to his daily existence. He cut out clippings, underlining with a ruler and red and blue pencils the significant parts of his chosen passage, which he then pasted into the large pages of his monthly classifiers.
Fuchs had to stoop to retrieve his clipping books from a trunk. Olga and Arkadi exchanged identical amused smiles. The little man stood up again and said, all of a sudden:
“The greatest happiness for a man is to live during a great epoch.”
“That is true,” said Arkadi.
“That is true, “ repeated Olga more quietly.
“…even,” Fuchs continued, “if it’s hard, even…”
Three minds stopped short on the threshold of something repeating that uncompleted “even…”
“That is true,” said Arkadi in the serious voice he used for passing sentence at the Special Commission.
“Here’s my new map,” said Fuchs.
Europe was divided between two colours, white and red. Red Europe was spilling over into white Europe. Red pincers encircled the Mediterranean. Italy, still white, was crisscrossed with red arrows; red arrows in Morocco, Algeria, Triplo, Egypt – red arrows!
“The arrows,” Fuchs explained, “indicate revolutionary movements which have not yet triumphed.”
Red countries covered the whole east, from the mouth of the Pechora on the White Sea to the gates of the Crimea, to Odessa, reconquered from the French and Greeks, to Daghestan, divided down the middle by a border of blood. The red countries, each bearing its date, spread out to the heart of Europe. Bavaria, a Socialist republic since April 7, 1919. Galicia, Soviet republic since April 25, 1919. Hungary, Soviet republic since March 22, 1919. Serbia – Serbia cut into the Balkans like a tooth- Socialist republic since April 14, 1919. Asia Minor pushed forward its red head like a snub-nosed pachyderm: Turkey, Socialist republic since April 19, 1919.
“Look here,” observed Arkadi, “the island of Crete is red too.”
“There has been a telegram from the Rosta Agency!”
Red arrows were exploding in Germany. Scattered red arrows were pointed at Paris, Lyon, Copenhagen, Rotterdam, London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Barcelona.
“How beautiful!” exclaimed Fuchs.
Arkadi answered:
“I don’t think Bavaria will hold much longer. They say Toller has been killed at an outpost.”
Fuchs flipped through a stack of clippings.
“What about this?” he said triumphantly.
Istanbul, April 27. The Executive Central Committee of the Moslem Revolutionaries of Turkey, Arabia, Persia, Hindustan, Algeria, Morocco, and Constantinople announce with profoundest joy that the Republic of the United States of the East will soon be proclaimed in Constantinople. The struggle is being carried forward vigorously. A soviet revolutionary corps of 2,000 men has been formed in Odessa.
The Turkish Consul at Odessa
Arkadi burst into laughter.
“Your Akhu-Ato-Bakh-Eddin looks like a joker to me. I think…. I think the wisest thing would be to lock him up.”
J.A.Fuchs’s eyes went back and forth from his visitor to the map, whose veracity was suddenly being undermined. “So you think I should erase all this?”
“All of this” meant the red arrows piercing Mediterranean Africa from Suez to Casablanca.
“No. No. There’s no doubt about the revolutionary ferment in the colonies. See the Manifesto of the Third International.”
When his visitors had departed, Fuchs wrote (in pencil so as to be able to erase it later) in the corner of the map, in neat little characters:
“Cf. Manifesto of IIIrd Intern.”
They had only a few steps to take to be back in their room. But even before, in the dark corridor, as Olga turned toward Arkadi to say “He’s a character, isn’t he?” she felt his masculine breath against her lips, and he did not answer. He enveloped her waist in an iron grip. She melted against him and it was as if he was carrying her away toward an unknown happiness.
Arkadi could never stay long. His nights of work began early. He departed, leaving behind him, in the room still full of the odour of his cigarettes, a cloudy wake of joy, confusion, and strength; but in that wake Olga’s soul and flesh felt emptied. A strange desert of worn lips and slack nerves… she dozed. The bell rang twice. “For me!... Who could it be?”
She felt, as the tanned young soldier entered, a mixture of surprise and unease:
“You? You? How is it possible?”
Nonetheless they kissed each other’s cold cheeks.
“Little sister, I’m exhausted. I’ve come from Rostov, the long way round. Makhno’s men took me prisoner on the way. I told them I was practically an anarchist. They only took my fur coat and a thousand rubles. No importance.”
“… You’re a soldier? A major?...”
On his shoulder, a red star.
“No. Yes. Whatever you like. How’s Mama? Can I sleep at your place? Is this house safe? My papers aren’t in order.”
“…not in order? Why?”
“You wouldn’t understand, little sister. Don’t worry about it. Where do you think I could stop for a few days?”
“I don’t know, Kolia. Maybe at Andrei Vassilievich’s. Or at Professor Lytaev’s.”
“How things change, little sister. My name is now Danil…”
He sat. He drank the tea which Arkadi had not touched. How mature he had become. His hands were those of a worker. As Olga listened to him laughing and talking, her uneasiness grew.
“I’m dirty, huh? What you smell on me is the peculiar odour of trains. Yet I’ve washed. Four weeks on trains, little Olga. And what trains, you couldn’t imagine. No windows, smashed in on every side, stinking like pigsty’s…. I even rode on the roof! Listen to this one, little sister, you’ll laugh. In Kharkov, in a little hotel full of fat bedbugs (they were fat from their habitual diet of government officials), I ran into some Frenchmen coming from God knows where, an old Socialist crank, Durand-Pepin, bringing us his life’s work, a complete outline for the organisation of the new society….”
The idea made him laugh so hard that he had to put down his teacup and bend over choking.
“He wanted to teach rational culture to the Ukrainian peasants by showing them little coloured pictures….”
Olga laughed too, infected. “When he saw that the peasants were more interested in stopping trains to at night to rob the passengers and hang the Jews, he declared he had to leave for home right away because of his heart disease. But they made him a member of a non-existent Academy, and gave him a set of Aluminium cookware, so he stayed… And his pretty niece, little sister, was worried whether she had enough dresses to appear in Kharkov society! Kharkov society! The biggest collection of bandits you could ever find…”

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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Chapter 6

COLD WINDS blew in from regions where absolute winter reigned – passing over the pearly steppes of Lapland, over the lakes and dark forests of Finland, over the border of Karelia harrowed with white trenches and mantraps- and dispersed the Baltic fogs. Perfect clear days followed. The air was so transparent that the laws of perspective seemed somehow altered. Looking across the Neva, you could make out the tiniest details of buildings, the silhouettes of pedestrians, the forms of sphinxes brought over from Memphis and erected on the edge of the river by emperors, only to witness after four thousand years the fall of new empires. The slim white columns crowned with statues and the tall golden spire of the Admiralty stood out at the hub of deserted avenues stretching toward stations oppressed by shimmering silence. Trams with grey swarms of passengers clinging to their sides moved slowly over the bridges through the infinite light composed of pale, pure blue of the sky, the gold of a cold sun intellectual in its clarity, and reflected snow. Looking out through the windows of the old Senate, where anaemic scholars were shifting through the archives of the Czarist Secret Police, we contemplated the iridescent white square, dominated by Falconet’s bronze: the Emperor Peter, draped in Roman garb, rearing his horse on the edge of a precipice overlooking the future or the abyss… And, farther on, the university embankment lined with neat old houses – red, white, and yellow- which reminded you of an archaic Holland.

“Look outside,” Professor Lytaev said to me, “and preserve the memory; you are more likely to live through these times than I am. The air of Venice does not possess this transparency, for the activity of men disturbs it, and the heat rising from the old stones makes it tremble. Nothing trembles here, the air is crystal. No smoking chimneys, no busy tumultuous plazas. I have only seen such transparency and calm on the high plateaus of Mongolia. That is where I came to understand why the Chinese artists are able to draw such pure close horizons.”
All this beauty was perhaps the sign of our death. Not a single chimney was smoking. The city was thus dying. And, like shipwrecked men on a raft devouring each other, we were about to fight among ourselves, workers against workers, revolutionaries against revolutionaries. If Great Works succeeded in carrying along the other factories, we would witness a general strike pitting the populace of the dead factories against the Revolution. It would be the revolt of despair against the stubborn, wilful, organized revolt which still had hope. It would be fervid and unthinking treason of some of the best, ready to ally themselves with the famine against the dictatorship because they couldn’t understand that the faith of millions of men can also die for lack of bread, that we are less and less free men, more and more, in an exhausted, besieged city, an army in rags whose safety lies in terror and discipline.

Low crooked wooden houses, each leaning a different way, lined both sides of the alley. Plants were visible in the windows. The alley seemed wide because the houses were so small. It could have been a street in an ancient town had it not ended in a red-brick wall surmounted by tall, blackened glass panes, broken in places. A few paces on stood a chimney, black against the sky, just turning blue. The light was getting brighter, objects began to stand out more and more sharply from one instant to the next. At the corner of the street, huddling against the old, blackened wood houses, you could see a long line of women. Even before the first blast of the whistle, they stood there. They were waiting for the bread for which they waited long hours in vain yesterday, outside in a blizzard. The shutters of the store at last opened when it was broad daylight. Did these women’s eyes derive any joy from this marvellously open sky, from the perfect sharpnes of forms, lines, and colours, from the soft, nuanced sparkle of the snow? “What beautiful weather,” murmured some voices. “Yes,” bitterly answered others, “but are they going to keep us waiting a long time again?” Hours passed despairingly. They discussed the news, their troubles, rumours, ideas… “Het, remember before the war the price of eggs?” – “He beats her, I tell you, she’s a martyr. Patient as a saint.” – “So they requisitioned his house, and the flour, aand everything. There’s nothing left. Nothing but to go out into the world like a poor wanderer, my God, my God…” – “If the English come, you’ll see. Everybody who raised his hand for the Communists even once will be hanged…” – “Everybody, then?” – “Yes, everybody, everybody…” – “Do you remember nice old fat Mikhei Mikheich…?”
Communal Bakery No. 60, near the Great Works, occupied the former shop of that nice fat old fellow, who some said had been killed by his workers and whom others claimed to have seen in town, looking important, with a briefcase under his arm. In his place, behind the bare counter, in the cold airless store where the odours of badly cooked bread, dead rats rotting under the floorboards, and bitter sweat fermenting under sheepskins mingled, stood two skinny clerks, who took ration cards, cut off one square tab, and heaved a hunk of black bread as soggy as clay into gnarled outstretched hands. One woman suddenly burst into tears: “Someone stole my card, someone stole it. I had it right here a second ago…” The women who were already on their way out with their bread gathered around her, the others brushed past, pushing and shoving, the precious paper with the stamp of the Commune clutched in their fists. Eddies of unrest moved through the line. “What? What?” The anxiety spread from one person to another. “Citizeness!” cried one of the clerks inside. Those waiting outside saw a despairing group flowing back toward them. “There’s no more bread.” – “When will there be any?” – “I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the clerk, who now stood in the door wiping his nose with his fingers. “Go ask the Commissars.” The store remained open, empty, for the two boys had to put in their hours. They sneered. “What can we do, little citizenesses? We’re no different than you.” In the background, over the bare counter, hung a red calico banner covered with white lettering:


The motionless snow covered factory buildings of the Great Works spread for miles, all the way from the workers’ quarter to the sea. Drafts of cold air whistled through the skeletons of its workshops. Strewn in this dessert lay piles of tip-trucks lying on their backs, old, twisted, resembling tangles of petrified snakes under the snow, loaded flatcars covered by white carapaces, small locomotives forgotten on sidings, and piles of scrap metal. The chimneys, nonetheless, still intermittently belched forth some astonishing black smoke. Life was concentrated in a few shops full of an odour of soot, cold oil, and neglected metal. Arc lamps hung like big pale moons; grey daylight filtered in through high dirty skylights in whose broken panes jagged patches of blue sky appeared suddenly. The muzzles of the 70-mm. cannon seemed to be pointing out through them. Drive shafts spun with a weary sound like out-of-breath hearts. The men on the job were lost among the machines, reduced to a sort of insignificance, pursued by cold and hunger, right up to their workbenches, heartsick at the emptiness around them.

“They call this a factory?” they said. “Ut’s more like a cemetery,,, We don’t know who the hell we are anymore. We’re no longer worker: starvelings, worthless beggars, good-for-nothing goldbricks, slobs, that’s what we are… Some of these men dismantle the machinery to make cigarette lighters. Other steal brass wire to build themselves rabbit cages. Some steal coal, machine oil, kerosene. Some of them doing that kind of work and never even held a job before. Look what’s become of us. Terrific.”
Groups would swarm around the locomotives in fits and starts, working furiously. They were the same men. They stole like the rest of them. They nursed a dark fury against themselves, against fate, against the Commissars, the Entente, everything which, by killing the factory, was killing them. They sent delegations to the President of the Soviet of People’s Commissars of the Northern Commune. Gaunt proletarians in old boots full of holes wound through the narrow halls of Smolny like exhausted soldiers. Inside the dictator’s huge office, surrounded by rugs, leather-covered furniture, shiny telephones, and walls covered with maps showing the blood-red line of the front drawn around the Republic, a cowardly timidity overcame even the most vehement among them. What to do? The fronts are there. No bread, paper money, peasants refusing to deliver grain. Hold out, hold out, or die by God! But didn’t we just say precisely that we can’t hold out any longer?...
“Sit down, comrades,” said the President quietly.
The delegation broke up, dispersed onto the sofa, too far away, onto armchairs too soft. The men remained fiercely silent, embarrassed.
“So, things are going badly?”
An old man who had marched behind Father Gapon in 1905, face wrinkled like a Chinese mask, stood up to regain his confidence and finally burst out:
“Bad? Impossible! No way to hold out anymore. Everybody’s going under. The factory doesn’t look like a factory any longer.”
The President also stood up, attentive, knowing all, knowing too that it was necessary to listen all the way through, then to show the maps, give out the figures, promise, telephone to the Commune and that, in the end, there was absolutely nothing to be done. (But you can always hold on for another hour, another day, another week; and perhaps that hour, that day, that week will be the decisive one.) He answered in a low voice, very different from the one people were used to hearing at big meetings. He talked about starving, ransomed Germany, about Liebknecht’s fresh blood, about the revolution ripening in Europe… Which of these men would come to his aid? What was the composition of this delegation? They had told him that it did not contain any adversaries, just non-party members, one or two sympathisers… Who?
His man was revealed in a youngish, heavy-jawed fellow who spoke in a studied manner, the way they do at meetings. The working class could fight to the end! Every man would do his duty for the International! As long as the food supply improved; and the factory received the special rations they had been promised for a month… What he said sounded strangely false – even though it was profoundly true and necessary to say it – you could feel he was lying in telling the truth. (“So you want to get yourself promoted onto the Factory Committee…”)
The same day the women went home without bread, after waiting all morning in front of the bakeries, a Council of Delegates, whose identity was secret, plastered some rather well-printed leaflets on the walls appealing to the proletarians of the factory to take their fate into their own hands. The strike was in the air. The news went out in every direction by telephone from the various Committees. Out of 3,700 registered workers, less than two thousand had begun work at seven o’clock. The chief mechanic, Khivrin, had gone up to the manager’s office, his cap over one ear, a cigarette in his teeth, and announced in a nasty voice that his machines weren’t working anymore. “Some kind of breakdown. I can’t figure out. Send over the engineers.” He announced this as if it were good news. Groups of Mensheviks and left SRs had held secret meetings during the night.
“Let’s get this over with.”
A thousand men filled the workshop. A platform with a length of rail for a balustrade was raised above people’s heads. The Assembly Committee was seated at on side, around a slightly raised table covered with red cloth. Timofei rang the chairman’s bell. “Kuriagin has the floor.” The meeting had already been going on for two hours, dragging and chaotic. The secretary of the Communist cell had been hooted down. “Give us bread! Bread! No speeches! We’ve heard all your bullshit before.” As he was stumbling down from the shaky rostrum, some big guys had grabbed him by the shoulders and shaken him. He looked thin and defeated in his military tunic.
“Say it! Tell us you didn’t phone the Special Comission. Go ahead if you dare.”
Timofei, who was delighted by the incident because it heated up the atmosphere, had controlled the tumult with his long outstretched arms and his emaciated face.
“Don’t get excited, comrades! We’re the strong ones!”
Kuriagin succeeded in dispelling the anger of these thousand men by telling an awkward, embarrassing story, saying all the wrong things, and relaxing them by making them laugh. He told of his trip to the countryside near Tver and how his three sacks of flour had been seized on his arrival home. His buddies assumed he had been on sick leave.

“Eat-it-all by yourself! You bastard!” cried a voice. The epithet seemed to stick to this red-faced sweaty loudmouth, who was floundering through a tirade against imperialism. Timofei was suffering. A thousand men and not one voice! So much suffering, so much revolt and not one voice! The arc lamps hanging from the metal skeleton of the roof cast a gloomy light over the thousand heads, some covered by old fur hats and others by shapeless caps. Hard faces, bony noses, ashy complexions, soiled garments: this was in appearance the same human mass (yet poorer, shrunken somehow) as during the February Days when the three-hundred-year-old autocracy crumbled under their pressure (because then, as now, there was no bread in these neighbourhoods; only people somehow lived much better in those days); the same mass as in July, when they poured through the city like a flood ready to carry everything away; the same mass as in October, when Trotsky’s voice swept them on to the conquest of power… The same, and yet not the same; altered, inconsistent now, disoriented, without heart: like an old acquaintance known for his firm jaw, determined gait, and direct way of speaking who suddenly appears spineless, flabby, shifty-eyed, and tongue-tied when you meet him after an absence. Timofei bit his lip. This crowd is spineless. The best among them have left. Some are dead. Eight hundred mobilised in six months. Not one voice. Naturally. Leonti had a voice and, what is more, a head; they say he died in the Urals. Klim is fightuing on the Don. Kirk is head of something. Lukin, what happened to Lukin? Timofei could still visualise these veterans standing in this very shop, three or four ranks of men, successive generations who had come up and disappeared within a year. Gone. At the head of the army, at the head of the state, dead: heads riddled with holes, lowered into graves in the Field of Mars to the sound of funeral marches. The Revolution is devouring us. And those who remain are without a voice, for they are the least courageous, the most passive, the followers, the ones who…
“Enough! Enough!” someone shouted at Kuriagin. “We’ve seen enough of you. That’s it.”
Timofei didn’t know how to speak to mass meetings himself. His pale blue eyes fogged up as soon as he mounted the rostrum, and all he could see ahead of him was a whirling, pulsating mist which lured him like an abyss. His voice was too weak to carry far; his thoughts came out in tight formulas that didn’t make complete sentences; people’s ears were still straining to hear him when he had already finished all he had to say; and since his mind was very sharp, he seemed to lack the breath to make a speech; he resolved every problem he posed before the audience even heard it.
Everything seemed lost to him, when a door opened at the rear and Goldin entered. Timofei, relieved, rang his bell vigorously to get the attention of the restless, murmuring audience.
“Put a time limit on the speakers!”
Timofei pretended not to hear. This was surely not the moment!
He rose.
“Goldin has the floor.”
Some hands clapped. A strident whistle blast sounded and then broke off sharply. Head, fists, shoulders shook awkwardly. Goldin seized the length of the rail before him with both hands – the cold felt good on his palms- and took possession of the rostrum. He leaned out toward the crowd, his head hunched into his shoulders; his glance sought out people’s eyes, held them for a moment, like a black flash, moved on, leaving a burning trace behind. His hot voice exploded, impassioned from the start.
“Do you remember, people without bread? How we drove out the Czar and his little ones, the ministers, the generals, the capitalists, the police? Tell me!”
“We remember,” replied a choked voice.
“When was that? Say it! Yesterday!
“What we could do yesterday, we can do today. What is the Revolution? This Revolution which shoots the bourgeois, conquers the Ukraine, makes the wide world tremble? – The Kremlin? Smolny? Decrees? People’s Commissars? Come now!” His huge blazing mouth split into a wide grin at this idea; and this infectious smile, which vanished instantly from his lips, spread from mouth to mouth, illuminating each man’s soul with the clarity of his thought. “The Revolution is us! You and me! What we want, the Revolution needs. Do you understand?”
Then a thundering apostrophe:
“… You, out there! You who manufacture laws and decrees!”
(The men were beginning to feel powerful. They were coming out of their torpor, electrified, awakening to new dreams of exploits.) “The Ukraine is in flames. Its fire will never go out. We don’t even know what the power of the people is yet! But it must not be emasculated by laws and decrees. We fear neither privations nor sacrifices; we will overthrow those who would snuff our fires. We demand workers’ freedom, decentralization, equality of all workers, individual provisioning, fifteen days paid leave for every worker to go ask his peasant brother for food! What we demand we are strong enough to take…”
A roar rose in the hall under the steel-beamed roof. Hands applauded frantically. Showers of cries exploded round this dark, bony, shaggy-haired man in a black blouse whose long sinuous hands were kneading the steel bar. All that remains is to put the general strike to the vote, thought Timofei… Two newcomers were pushing their way through the crowd toward the rostrum.
Arkadi sat down on the steps so as to be able to keep his head above the crowd without, however, being too conspicuous. He immediately tried to pick out the faces of outside agitators among the crowd of faces. He found one, which amazed him.
Antonov climbed ponderously up the rickety wooden stairs. His thick neck topped off by small, squarish, ruddy head emerged above the crowd. At first he was taken for a worker in the factory.
“I want the floor.”
His powerful sonorous voice carried all the way to the back of the hall.
“Hey! You don’t have the floor yet,” interjected Timofei. Goldin shrugged his shoulders. Antonov appeared to bow to the will of the chair but his heavy presence on that platform already defied it. Waiting patiently to be allowed to speak, he studied the audience. His narrow grey eyes searched out expressions and gestures; he could practically read the words on people’s lips. His impression was favourable. He became much mire self-assured. The chair decided that it was impossible to prevent him from talking: the crowd wasn’t sufficiently worked up. So he started in again:
“Comrades!” He wisely skipped the usual salutation “in the name of the Party Committee.” “It’s obvious that” – and his thick red neck, his broad shoulders under heavy furs, his huge stonecutter’s hands resting on the railing emphasized his point – “the condition of the working class is becoming intolerable…”
A vague murmur of approval came from the back rows of the audience. Son of a gun! So they finally noticed! You better believe it; it sure is intolerable!
“… We’re starving. The bakeries haven’t distributed bread for three days. It’s a disgrace! What good are paper salaries? We all have pockets full of rubles, but something to eat would be much more to the point. The roadblocks set up to prevent individual supply hunting have done more harm than good in many cases… Things have got to change! They will change if we have the will. We didn’t make the Revolution in order to end up like this.”
No one knew anymore if he was talking for or against the strike, for or against the government. He was repeating the previous harangues almost word for word, but in a more orderly form. Sure of himself now, his voice coming strong, his torso erect, he denounced hunger and poverty along with these thousand men. Goldin blacked in checker squares in his notebook. What a demagogue! He thought. The mistake was to give him the floor…
“This morning the Executive Committee decided to call upon you to form new supply detachments, on the basis of five to ten men for every two hundred and fifty, and prepared to leave within three days. There’s wheat at Saratov. Go take it! Don’t lose an hour.” Heads moved in all directions in agitated confusion: conflicting winds blowing through wheat before a storm.
“The Commune is sending you four boxcars of provisions: canned goods, sugar, rice, and white flour: supplies taken from the imperialists by the glorious Workers’ and Peasants’ Army.”
(-“What?”- “What did he say?” – “Four boxcars?” – “Rice?” – “Yes, rice and canned goods, you hear!” – “Listen, listen!”)
“Tomorrow, this very evening, you must organise teams to handle the distribution… Make sure that not a single pound of rice gets stolen by the bureaucrats and profiteers!”
(- “When are the cars arriving?” – “Let him talk!” – “No interruptions!”)
“… I said tomorrow! But there has been talk of a strike from this platform. Comrades, seven locomotives and thirty cannon are being repaired in your workshop. Each day’s delay in delivering the locomotives adds to the famine. Each day’s delay in delivering the cannon increases the danger. Where is the fool who can’t understand this? Let him show himself!”
Antonov took a breath. His temples were damp with sweat. He tore open his collar, popping the buttons. Triumphant – with those four carloads of provisions behind him – standing erect, he defied an invisible enemy in hall:
“Let him show himself!”
He threw back his sheepskin-lined coat, showing himself dressed in a faded blouse with a hole at one elbow, identical with these men. He knew it was necessary to bawl out crowds that might get away from you, to shout into their faces the things they would like to shout at you, to identify with them – against them – through anger and invective. Now was the moment to bear down.
“There are cowards, slackers, swine, traitors, tools of the Allies, henchmen of the generals, scoundrels who think only of their skins and their stomachs, who want to stuff their bellies when the whole beleaguered Republic is hungry! Let them remember that proletarian bullets have been cast for their heads!”
Having proffered a threat at the end of his diatribe, he stopped short, concluding rapidly with an affirmation which nearly brought on applause – he could see it:
“But I swear, there’s not a single traitor among us!”
Arkadi listened with admiration. Antonov pushed his advantage to the limit:
“Did you know that this week we discovered fifty rifles in the cellars of the Church of St. Nicholas?”
( They were old ceremonial weapons which had been placed among the tombs at the time of the first Turkish campaign.)
“… That Allied agents are planning to blow up the Kronstadt forts?”
(They would have liked to; but the only evidence of a plot was the self-interested report of a double agent)
“… that the Special Commission has just discovered a new conspiracy?”
(The Special Commission was, it is true, looking for this conspiracy.)
The meeting was ending in confusion and defeat. A worker read out the text of a resolution in a rasping voice: “… the powerful hands of the proletariat will mercilessly crush…” Always these clichés, thought Timofei. Boosted onto the shoulders of two men whom the human waves rocked gently, he shouted: “Workshop B is meeting separately” – for it was necessary, despite this debacle, to try to tally those men who were still dependable. Goldin led the way.
The night was about to waylay them on the border between the hubbub and the silence when a bearded giant with blue-veined neck and temples came running up to them, gesticulating. You might have thought him drunk. Bare-chested, teary-eyed, he held up a pair of black hands like hard roots – ready to grasp anything.

“Look at us!” he shouted. “We’re like dogs. The belly’s empty, they growl. Throw em a bone, they shut up. Look at me, comrades, little brothers. I’m like that too. Don’t hold it against us, little brothers, poverty made us this way!”
He clung to Goldin’s lapels with both hands. His despair was like rage. His powerful clouded eyes were like ponds whose bottom has been disturbed, as he stared into the dark eyes opposite him.
“And yet,” he stammered, suddenly releasing his grip, “if you knew what they have done, these hands. If you knew what they are still capable of, comrade…”
For a brief instant all that the three men could see in front of them were those two hands: dreadful, yet trembling with fatigue, hands which appeared to be charred.

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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Chapter 5

Other oases of electricity burning from dusk till dawn: the Committees. Committees of Three, of Five, of Seven, of Nine, the Enlarged Committees, the Extraordinary Committees, the Permanent, the Temporary, Special Subaltern, Superior, Supreme Committees deliberating on the problem of nails, on the manufacture of coffins, on the education of preschool children, on the slaughter of starving horses, on the struggle against scurvy, on the intrigues of the anarchists, on agitation and propaganda, on road transport, on the stocking of women’s hats after the nationalization of small business, on the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles, on the infraction of discipline committed by Comrade N., on the famine … So much thought straining and working everywhere in these messy rooms under the same portraits, in the same atmosphere of neglect characteristic of conquered places where people are always rushing in and out! New dangers were appearing at every turn. The thaw was approaching. Piles of filth hardened by the cold filled the courtyards of buildings and the floors of whole rooms which would be transformed into cesspools with the first warm days. The water conduits had broken in many areas: they would soon be infested with disease. Typhus was already present; it was necessary to head off cholera, to clean up a huge enfeebled city within a few weeks. Kirk proposed to the Executive the formation of an extraordinary Committee of Three with unlimited powers. Kirk telephoned the Urban Transportation Committee: “I need four hundred teams…” At the other end of the wire Rubin answered: “I’ll give you thirty and you’ll feed the horses yourself.” Kirk requisitioned the old retired tramway cars and posted notices declaring that “persons belonging to the wealthy classes, aged 18-60,” were drafted into sanitation duty. Formed into teams supervised by the Poor People’s Committees, this workforce would clean up the city. Only 300 disinherited ex-rich people were to be found among the 750,000 inhabitants. Kirk, swearing in English into his stained moustache, ordered roundups in the centre of the city and had the trams stopped in the streets to pull off well-dressed people who were adjudged ex-bourgeois by their appearance and sent off to sanitation duty with no further discussion.

Frumkin had no workers to unload trains of foodstuffs; as a result there was a shortage of cars, and the cars in the stations were being pillaged. He announced an obligatory registration of former employees and unemployed functionaries, picked up nine hundred naïve fellows at the unemployment office, and sent them off to the stations escorted by a Communist battalion; but one third of them melted away en-route and another third on arriving. The flour sacks, unloaded with unheard-of slowness and clumsiness by the remaining three hundred petits bourgeois, were left under the snow along the tracks: a good part of them went rotten. The black markets were inundated with flour for several days. The great writer, Pletnev, and the brilliant tenor, Svechin, having learned that professors, men of letters, and gracious lawyers who, under the old regime, had brilliantly defended the Revolutionaries, were being drafted for these “Public Works,” protested to the President of the Soviet against these proceedings, which were “unworthy of a civilized people” and would “end up dishonouring the Revolution.” The President had just received a stock inventory from the Town Council indicating that in three days there would be no more food; and from the Railway Commissariat a telephone message begging him to take urgent actions aimed at supplying combustible materials for the lines and raising discipline among yje railwaymen; otherwise all traffic would probably halt in less than a week. Kondrati had just announced to him that a strike was brewing at the great Works. He gazed at the great writer and brilliant tenor with polite indifference.
“I’ll look into it, I’ll look into it; we’re swamped…. Do you need anything?”
Naturally , they were in need of many things, despite the fact that the whole city envied their opulence, which was of course exaggerated by gossips.
“I’ll have two sacks of flour sent over to you, Simeon Gheorghievich…”
The brilliant tenor lowered his chin as a sign of thanks; in this way his thank you was no more than a silent acquiescence masking both disdain and servility. Pletnev, whose greatest pleasure-all the while feigning indifference- was to discover the hidden inner man (“the true brute, the vain, hypocritical madman, who nonetheless has created God in his image..”) beneath the masks of social man, noted this movement, which was worthy of a flunky taking huge tip. The President took him affectionately by the arm.

“Vassili Vassilievich, look at these charts: I thought of having them sent to you.”
green triangles, connected by straight lines to pink circles, blue rectangles, and violet ovals, each inscribed with figures and % symbols of percentages, dancing around them like air bubbles in clear water full of aquatic plants, described the progress of public education over the past year.
“What a thirst for learning!” exclaimed the President. “Look: the number of teaching establishments has grown by 27%, not counting adult courses, preschool, and the Remedial Service for Deprived Children; altogether, it adds up to 64%, 64%!”
Pletnev, tall, stooped, grey-headed, wearing a grey sweater under an old English jacket with wide grey stripes, shook his low, wrinkled forehead, sniffed the warm air of the room with his mujik nostrils, brought his hostile glance back from the green triangles to the pale, flabby, sad, self-satisfied face of the dictator and said evasively: “Mmm. Yes. Great progress. Hum. Hum.” He cleared his throat. “I really must discuss the school problem with you one of these days; quite right.”
How to make these confounded great men understand that the audience had gone on long enough! The President’s fingers snatched a piece of paper just handed to him through the half-opened door. A decoded message: “According to agent K.: Major Harris back in Helsingfors. Stop. Negotiations resumed. Offensive nearing Finland. Informed circles think agreement likely.” If an agreement is likely, that means our existence becomes rather unlikely.

“Harrumph” said Pletnev, restraining the hoarse sounds ready to burst out of his hollow chest, with the strange coyness of an old consumptive who had been holding on for twenty years, “ you know some funny things are going on in the schools…”
he finally vented his spleen with a short growl:
“I know of one high school where four students were found pregnant last month. Of course the old directress is in prison, no one could quite tell me why…”
Finally they left, the one after the other, colliding in the narrow opening of the doorway: the tenor, still elegant in his long overcoat lined with monkey fur, the writer extraordinarily erect, his stiffness accentuating his thinness, a sly expression on his face. Fleischman brushed past them without recognising them. Tenors and writers were the last thing he could be bothered with at that moment anyhow! He burst into the huge presidential office, with ts soft atmosphere of carpets and leather furniture, bringing with him the street, the wind, the old, dry mud clinging to soldiers’ boots. Muddy and booted himself, sheathed in black leather, pockets stuffed, chest crisscrossed with rust-coloured straps, his face the face of an inexhaustible old Jew, he unceremoniously picked up the thread of a conversation begun the previous night by direct wire from the front.
“We’ve got to put a stop to these outrages…”
These were not the same outrages, but they had just cost the lives of forty soldiers who had frozen to death near Dno while the overcoats being sent to them were held up in a railroad station because the shipping order hadn’t been filled out according to regulations. Varvara Ivanovna Kossich, the heroine of the trial of the 206 (1877), had sent an indignant letter to the President of the Soviet of People’s Commissars of the Federated Republic demanding an end to the same excesses denounced by Pletnev and Svechin. The letter ended with these lines: “I warn you: you will be held responsible by future generations.” The President of the Soviet of People’s Commissars was more concerned, under the circumstances, about his present responsibilities. He thanked Varvara Ivanovna for having pointed out abuses of which he was well aware and had her letter sent on to the President of the Soviet of People’s Commissars of the Northern Commune. The Party Control Commission was informed about it. Meanwhile, the Poor People’s Committtees and the population had more or less finished the job of cleaning up the city by dumping most of the garbage into the canals. Public Health reported the first cases of poisoned water. Kirk and Frumkin were about to be censured by the Control Commission when the affair was suddenly forgotten. A bunch of sailors, whom some described as drunk and others as anarchists, had just shot down three militiamen during a brawl. The Wahl Factory had stopped work and demanded two weeks paid leave for all workers to go to the country and replenish their food supplies individually. The strike, inspired by Menshevik agitators whom no one dared arrest, threatened to become general. That same night the Special Commission incarcerated seventeen Social Democratic intellectuals, most of whom were strangers to the movement. Among them was Professor Onufriev, the author of the authoritative History of Chartism. During the search of his house, a manuscript study on Democratic Freedoms in England at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century, which Commissar Babin mistook for a counterrevolutionary satire was seized and lost. Several days later a few odd pages were found in a public garden.

Pletnev, the great writer and Svechin, the admirable tenor, once again presented themselves at the office of the President of the Soviet. A harsh article by Pletnev on “The Tragedy of the Intellectuals” was turned down by the official newspapers. This created a fresh incident which was greeted with malicious joy by the foreign press. Professor Onufriev had only been freed for a short while when he died of dysentery. The President of the Special Commission, who drank too much, was replaced by Frumkin. The ruble declined disastrously.

The Commission on Workers’ Housing, whose seventeen members received the same food rations as members of the Executive, put the finishing touches on its grand plan for rebuilding the slums. It called for an initial delay of three years and a hundred million rubles credit. The painter Kichak showed a full length portrait of the President, his hair blowing in the wind, his hand extended in a vague but eloquent gesture which looked as if he wanted to see if it were raining, to bless a crowd, or to politely approve a takeover. In the background there was an armoured train so beautiful that no one had ever seen any like it. He charged admission.

The newspapers announced the coming visit of the old French revolutionary, Durand-Pepin, author of a Plan for the organisation of Socialist Society in 2,220 articles. Pravda (The Truth) announced that the situation at the front was improving. The next day it was learned that a catastrophe had taken place near Narva, which was overrun by the Whites. The problem of the front was thrust forward before the problem of nails could be resolved, before boots could be found for workers in the factories. Typewriters crackled ceaselessly: ORDER. ORDER. ORDER. MANDATE. EDICT. DECREE No. XXX. DECREE No. XXXX. DECREE No. XXXXX. DECREE… Cancelling DECREE No.XXX… From the Kremlin, by direct wire, the Soviet of People’s Commissars of the R.F.S.S.R. implored the Soviet of People’s Commissars of the Northern Commune to execute the measures decreed by the central government. The Northern Commune replied: “Impossible. Situation getting worse and worse.”
From dusk to dawn, the Comittees of Three, of Five, of Seven, of Nine, the Enlarged Committees, the Extraordinary Committees, Permanent, Temporary, Special Subaltern, Superior, Supreme Committees deliberated, planned, ordered, decreed….
“The meeting is called to order” said Fanny.
her wrinkled face bore the imprint of contradictory forces: vanquished diseases, hidden pride (the stubborn forehead, the sounding glance like a plumb line, the inner shock one felt on first contact with her), warmth, suspicion, and somewhere deep inside a secret instability, perhaps a noble madness, perhaps a half repressed hysteria.

A brass plaque alongside the door: S.T. ITIN, CERTIFIED DENTIST. Cardboard, on the door itself: LABOUR’S RIGHTS CLUB. Crumbling corridors smelling of piss and sweepings; old papers under a coat rack, the surprise of a large mirror in one corner, piles of newspapers tied to with twine and covered with a layer of dust, stifling heat; the desolation of a young bride’s smiling portrait left hanging over a chimney, of this tiny room itself, furnished with a camp bed, a mahogany table covered with ring marks from glasses, and a broken down couch. Cigarette smoke, steamed-up windows. Seven heads, so close they nearly touch at times, emerging and receding into the shadows; grave, undistinguished, austere heads; one of them charming, like a black flower fallen from a Persian poet’s paradise.
“Goldin has the floor,” said Fanny.
He had come from the Ukraine by way of the Volga: Czaritsin under siege, Yaroslav in ruins, starving Moscow, forty-seven days on the road, leaving behind him the shades of two brothers-in-arms, one hanged by the Whites at Kiev, the other shot by Reds in Poltava. He had slept in the vermin infested straw of the cattle cars along with typhus-ridden refugees, wounded men miraculously rescued from unknown battlefields, with raped Jewesses escaping from pogroms, and pregnant peasant women who hid foodstuffs over their bellies and paid for their corner at night by giving themselves standing to the men who ruled the roost. He brought back with him a bullet lodged in his flesh, at the back of his chest, against the spinal column, expressly to provoke the admiration of the surgeons (“You’re sure hard to kill!”), a pure and delicious love rent by pride- pride is sometimes only the noble side of egotism- some letters of the young Korolenko discovered in a country house during a guerrilla battle, and the secret correspondence of the vanquished party: five cigarette papers covered with ciphers hidden inside his metal tunic buttons.

He emanated power, a bitter power somewhat drunk with itself, yet capable of sweeping others along. His style of talking was deliberately unadorned, yet vibrant with heat; its seductive power came as much from a veiled lyricism as from its firm dialectic. He was dark and bony with a thick head of hair, burning eyes, a prominent nose, and an ardent mouth. He wiped out all those faces surrounding him- insignificant for him except for the one which was feminine and beautiful- by pronouncing the single word “Comrades” in a warm voice which conveyed the strength of his formidable brother. Fanny was watching him from the side and judging him severely within her soul: too eager for exploits, not devoted enough to the Party to perform mundane tasks and remain in the ranks. Adventuristic. He brought the six heads surrounding him back to a life as strained and imperious as the health of the Revolution.

Balance sheet: hatred and famine in the countryside, ready to march on the cities armed with nail studded clubs as in the Middle Ages. A despairing decimated Proletariat. Paper decrees- impotent, annoying- dropping from the Kremlin towers onto the masses paralyzing the last living strength of the Revolution. The Regular Army, built at the hands of old generals, steamrollering over the partisans, the true people’s army. Opportunists and bureaucrats eliminating enthusiasts. A monstrous state rising from the ashes of the Revolution. “This Robespierrism will devour us all and open the gates to counterrevolution. We haven’t an hour left to lose.”
The head which was beautiful as a black flower murmured softly: “Reconstitute the fighting organization.”
“You’re crazy!” Fanny cut in sharply. “And you don’t have the floor.”
Timofei, of the Great Works, rose, filling the tiny room with his shadow. He had large, sky blue eyes set in a craggy face like a clenched fist.
“Department B wants a strike; Department A is hesitant but will go along. The best of them are with us, the rest are worthless anyway. Morale among the women is excellent. They’d be ready to smash up all the cooperatives in a single morning. Liaison with the Wahl Factory has been established.”
Kiril, who had gone through the experience of the 1914 strikes and of three years in the mining towns of Northern France, advised caution don’t commit the military organisation, which was still weak, until the strike movement became generalised. Formulate clear demands: Down with the despotism of the Commissars, free elections, continuation of the Revolution. Discriminate carefully between the masses’ legitimate revolt against rule by decree and their weariness, their despair and counter-revolutionary bitterness. Don’t give ourselves illusions: perhaps the masses are not yet ready for a new upsurge.

Fanny nodded approval. – Who do we send to the Great Works? Kiril, with his firm moderation, based on self-assured strength, his intuitive understanding of the feeling of crowds, his temperament of a forty year old worker little inclined toward empty gestures and phrase mongering? Better Goldin, with his intelligent passion, his eagerness for exploits. You have to throw a man into certain assemblies as you would throw a torch into dry wood.
“The meeting is called to order,” said the dictator.
A dozen people were seated around the big green table. Bare walls painted white, bright lights hanging in frosted glass globes; faces, silhouettes, papers on the table, everything sharp with the stark bright clarity of an operating room. Karl Marx, flowing beard, vague Olympian smile, framed in black, a red ribbon on one of the upper corners of the frame… The windows open over the river, at present undistinguishable from its banks in the whiteness and the fog.
Agenda:(1) the situation at the front; (2) supplies; (3) the Wahl Factory affair; (4) the situation at the Great Works; (5)nominations.
Present: eleven names. Excused: two names. The recording secretary fills in the blanks of a form divided into two columns: Reports heard, Decisions taken. The catastrophe of Narva is recorded here, following Fleischman’s laconic report, in terms as incomprehensible as the scientific names of diseases are to the laymen in a hospital room. “Make note of the negligence in Transport and the incompetence of the leadership. Replace the political cadres in the Xth Division. Intensify agitation among the troops. Demand that Supply deliver fresh equipment within the week. Give Comrade Fleischman the responsibility for carrying out the measures decided.”
Maria Pavlovna, in a black blouse, a high collar, an elderly school teacher’s complexion, old fashioned pince-nez with tiny lenses, and a severe mouth, had only one word to say about the nominations. “I’m against promoting Kirk. He’s been a Party member for only a year.” (Since the night before he and his sailors smashed open the gates of the Winter Palace.) His nomination was set aside. Garina, tiny, wizened, her glance amazingly young, infectious laughter constantly lurking in the depths of her eyes, a round nose, hair always a little wild, also had only one word to say – about the Wahl Factory:
“At the end of the resolution, instead of “We will not hesitate to use compulsion,” put: “We will not hesitate to use the most energetic pressure…”
And she explained, giggling in the ear of her neighbour, Kondrati: “For in reality we no longer have the means of compulsion.”
The men all looked drab in this operating room lighting, with two exceptions: the President –prominent head, blue cheeks, abundant hair, the well sculpted yet slightly flabby features of a young Roman Emperor or a Smyrna merchant, a deep voice which ran to falsetto when got excited, an appearance of heaviness, nonchalance and mastery, fatigue and intrigue, established greatness and hidden mediocrity; and the committee secretary, Kondrati – light complexion, golden curls at his temples, a fine featured yet rugged face, Scandinavian blood and Mongol blood. All interchangeable: around this table, in this city, this country, at the front, before the task and before death itself; each head here being but one head of that eleven headed being (this evening) called the Committee, each merging his intelligence and his will with those – anonymous, impersonal, sovereign, and superior- of the Committee, each knowing himself to be powerful and invulnerable through the Party yet insignificant and defeated in advance without the Party; each refusing to exist for himself other than through the fulfilment of a prodigious will in which his own will was lost, a useful drop in the ocean.
“Whom do we send to the Great Works?”
A single head inside eleven skulls weighed the problem maturely. Osipov? He was there; chin in hand, with the long face of a seminarist or a convict. Osipov had led the proletariat of the Great Works into battle during the great decisive days. No, no, too idealistic, too inclined toward self-sacrifice, incapable of understanding the masses when they sink, discouraged, back into the passive desire to live in peace, even if it is barely living…. Rubin? A good organiser but too hidebound. Kondrati? Too early… If things go really badly, to prevent or see through a disaster, but not before. Garina? A woman wouldn’t be right for the job; and in any case her subtle theoretical mind made her a first-class propagandist but a very poor agitator. Saveliev? Worn down by the workers’ problems, tormented by scruples (“Look at what the worker eats since he took power!”), capable of losing his head. No, no…. Several voices said:
Antonov. Naturally. Nobody could be better. What a voice, Antonov! Made for covering the tumult of a railroad station. And character. Stubborn. Not intelligent. Not Stupid. Disciplined. Not many, ideas, guts. Vulgar. Tactful.
“Antonov. You give him instructions Kondrati,” said the President.
The rest of the meeting was taken up in the reality by intrigue. Kondrati’s coterie was contesting for some positions against that of the President, whom they suspected of trying to squeeze them out. A confused argument in which no one said what he was thinking took place over the nomination of some district secretaries. A compromise was finally agreed on: the positions were shared. A slight advantage for Kondrati.
“We’re making progress,” murmured Fleischman.
Osipov voted mechanically with the others, for at every vote unanimity was re-established. We’ve come to that, he thought. The Great Works against us! Hemmed in by hunger, picking up all the old weapons of power… What can we promise these workers if they no longer want to die for the Revolution?

Previous Chapter
Next Chapter. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Cross and the Swastika

You know I've said before that the Nazi relationship with organised religions that weren't Jewish was quite complex and at times weirdly tolerant. But its with the Christian churches within German that the relationship with God really got weird.

Nowadays in the age of the internet there are two sides to the issue of Hitler's faith, certain quite dishonest Christians claim he was an atheist and they really have no evidence for that. On the other hand you have dishonest atheists claiming he was a devout Catholic. They have some evidence at least, the references to God in Mein Kampf and the Concordat between the Nazi party and German Catholic Church, but what they forget is that not only was this a political arrangement between NSDAP and the Zentrum party (Catholic) but much more importantly that Hitler broke the Concordat, he destroy all Catholic organisations just like all other non Nazi groups and was quite happy to lock up Catholic priests and Bishops in the concentration camps:

Dachau became the camp where 2,720 clergymen were sent, including 2,579 Catholic Priests. The priests at Dachau were separated from the other prisoners and housed together in several barrack buildings in the rear of the camp. There were 1,780 Polish priests and 447 German priests at Dachau. Of the 1,034 priests who died in the camp, 868 were Polish and 94 were German.
Personally speaking I find Hitler's religious views if any to be completely irrelevant, what interests me is the attitude of the Nazi regime as a whole. And for me the most interesting part was the Nazi regimes attempt to co-opt and control the many Protestant churches in German. The main thrust of this policy was the establishment of an umbrella organisation The German Evangelical Church, more commonly known as the National Reich Church (NRC).  

At first glance it doesn't seem to exceptional, the Nazi's were a Totalitarian regime so it makes sense that they'd which to keep a tight leash on anything capable of independent organisation even if that organising is unlikely to be overtly hostile.

But the really interesting and strange thing is in how this organisation grew into an experiment into creating a "Pure" Church for the new German state. Not content to keep priests and bishops on message they started trying to build a church to replace the old Protestant ones and fill them with Nazi Iconography and a crusader like mindset. Most infamously replacing the Bible with Mein Kampf (or giving them an equal place) and the Crucifix with the Sword and Swastika.

The experiment was effectively a failure, the only attendants were already committed Nazi's and the party seems to have lost interest quite quickly by 1937. But they didn't half arse this, they really put a lot of thought and effort into building this Nazi church. They had a Reichs Bishop Ludwig Muller. Muller a little known pastor whom joined the Nazi's in 1931.

And the foundations for this theological nightmare were laid down and could easily have been revived after the war with renewed interest. Here's the 30 point program of the National Reich Church written I believe by Alfred Rosenberg.

Reading them all together makes me wonder how this National Reich Church could even be called a Church if they were all put into practice, it starts quite obvious outline the role of the NRC as a tool of control and propaganda, but it keeps on going to gut all recognisable aspects of Christianity.

1. The National Reich's Church of Germany categorically claims the exclusive right and the exclusive power to control all churches within the borders of the Reich; it declares these to be national churches:

2. The German people must not serve the National Reich Church. The National Reich Church is absolutely and exclusively in the service of but one doctrine: race and nation.

3. The field of activity of the National Reich Church will expand to the limits of Germany's territorial and colonial possessions.

4. The National Reich Church does not force any German to seek membership therein. The Church will do everything within its power to secure the adherence of every German soul. Other churches or similar communities and unions particularly such as are under international control or management cannot and shall not be tolerated in Germany.*

5. The National Reich Church is determined to exterminate irrevocably and by every means the strange and foreign Christian faiths imported into Germany in the ill-omened year 800.

6. The existing churches may not be architecturally altered, as they represent the property of the German nation, German culture and to a certain extent the historical development of the nation. As property of the German nation, they are not only to be valued but to be preserved.

7. The National Reich Church has no scribes, pastors, chaplains or priests but National Reich orators are to speak in them.**

8. National Reich Church services are held only in the evening and not in the morning. These services are to take place on Saturday's with solemn illumination.

9. In the National Reich Church German men and women, German youths and girls will acknowledge God and his eternal works.

10. The National Reich Church irrevocably strives for complete union with the state. It must obey the state as one of its servants. As such, it demands that all landed possessions of all churches and religious denominations be handed over to the state. It forbids that in future churches should secure ownership of even the smallest piece of German soil or that such be ever given back to them. Not the churches conquer and cultivate land and soil but exclusively the German nation, the German state.***

11. National Reich Church orators may never be those who today emphasize with all tricks and cunning verbally and in writing the necessity of maintaining and teaching of Christianity in Germany; they not only lie to themselves but also the German nation, goaded by their love of the positions they hold and the sweet bread they eat.

12. National Reich Church orators hold office, government officials under Civil Service rules.

13. The National Reich Church demands immediate cessation of the publishing and dissemination of the Bible in Germany as well as the publication of Sunday papers, pamphlets, publications and books of a religious nature.****

14. The National Reich Church has to take severe measures in order to prevent the Bible and other christian publications being imported into Germany.

15. The National Reich Church declares that to it, and therefore to the German nation, it has been decided that the Fuhrer's "Mein Kampf" is the greatest of all documents. It is conscious that this book contains and embodies the purest and truest ethics for the present and future life of our nation.

16. The National Reich Church has made it its sacred duty to use all its energy to popularize the coeternal "Mein Kampf" and to let every German live and complete his life according to this book.

17. The National Reich Church demands that further editions of this book, whatever form they may take, be in content and pagination exactly similar to the present popular edition.*****

18. The National Reich Church will clear away from its altars all crucifixes, Bibles and pictures of Saints.

19. On the altars there must be nothing but "Mein Kampf", which is to the German nation and therefore to God the most sacred book, and to the left of the altar a sword.

20. The National Reich Church speakers must during church services propound this book to the congregation to the best of their knowledge and ability.

21. The National Reich Church does not acknowledge forgiveness of sins. It represents the standpoint which it will always proclaim that a sin once committed will be ruthlessly punished by the honorable and indestructible laws of nature and punishment will follow during the sinner's lifetime.******

22. The National Reich Church repudiates the christening of German children, particularly the christening with water and the Holy Ghost.

23. The parents of a child (or if a new born child) must only take the German oath before the altar which is worded as follows: The man: "In the name of God I take this Holy oath that I the father of this child, and my wife, are of proven Aryan descent. As a father, I agree to bring up this child in the German spirit and as a member of the German race". The women: "In the name of God I take this Holy oath that I (name) bore my husband a child and that I its mother am of proven Aryan descent. As a mother, I swear to bring up this child in the German spirit and as a member of the German race". The German diploma can only be issued to newly born children on the strength of the German oath.

24. The National Reich Church abolishes confirmation and religious education as well as the communion the religious preparation for the communion. The educational institutions are and remain the family, the schools, the German youth, the Hitler youth, and the Union of German girls.

25. In order that school graduation of our German youth be given an especially solemn character, all churches must put themselves at the disposal of German youth, the Hitler youth and the Union of German girls on the day of the state's youth which will be on the Friday before Easter. On this day the leaders of these organizations exclusively may speak.

26. The marriage ceremony of German men and women will consist of taking an oath of faithfulness and placing the right hand on the sword. There will not be any unworthy kneeling in National Reich Church ceremonies.

27. The National Reich Church declares the tenth day before Whit Sunday to be the national holiday of the German family.

28. The National Reich Church rejects the customary day of prayer and atonement. It demands that this be transferred to the holiday commemorating the laying of the foundation stone of the National Reich Church.

29. The National Reich Church will not tolerate the establishment of any new clerical religious insignia.

30. On the day of its foundation, the Christian cross must be removed from all churches, cathedrals and chapels within the Reich and its colonies and it must be superseded by the only unconquerable symbol of Germany the "Hakenkreuz" (swastika).

*It should be remembered that both the Jehovah's Witnesses and small Mormon population were also deemed dangerous and sent to extermination camps.

** Loyal Nazi party members instead of a separate clergy. Confirmed in point 12.

*** Basically an attempt to break the financial backs of churches to make sure they are dependent on the Nazi state

**** Yes the NRC wants the bible to be suppressed, this is because it found most versions of the bible to be Pacifist and didn't want alternative version to contradict its edited more militant message.

***** 15, 16, 17, and 19 make it clear (as if it were ever in doubt) that the NRC main task is to be another platform for Nazi propaganda.

****** I shouldn't be surprised but I wasn't expecting a threat to be written into a Churches founding principle.

Despite the almost surreal weirdness the NRC does give us crystal clear example of the dangers of State religions and the role theologians can play in pushing explicit political ideology. It's easy to laugh and write off this bizarre experiment but there are plenty of cases of this kind of thing - minus the Nazi specifics- being successful. Iran, Saudi Arabia, even the mild Church of England. So its something that warrants being treated seriously.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Chapter 4

I, too, sometimes crossed the frozen river on those Arctic nights. The pathway was silent underfoot. It was like moving through the void. I reflected that only yesterday we were nothing. Nothing: like the nameless men of the forgotten village which had vanished from these banks. Between that yesterday and the present centuries seemed to have passed, or between the times of those men and our own. Only yesterday countless lights were burning along these banks inside rooms where the power, the wealth, and the pleasure of others reigned. We put out those lights, brought back primordial night. That night is our work. That night is us. We have entered it in order to destroy it. Each of us has entered it, perhaps never to leave it So many harsh, terrible tasks must be done; tasks which demand the disappearance of their performers. Let those who come after us forget us. Let them be different from us. Thus what is best in us will be reborn in them.

Yesterday, we only counted as statistics: labor force, emigration, death rate, crime rate, suicide rate. The best of us also counted In the records: file B, wanted lists, political police, reports, prison rolls. This is no metaphysical void! No commodity is more common and more depreciated than man. Is he even worth the weight of his flesh? They wouldn’t let a draft animal starve in the gray autumn fields. But a man in a big city? As far back as I search in my memory, I find not theories but images, not ideas but impressions, brutally imprinted in my nerves and soul, reminding me that we were nothing. Childhood moments in London. There are two of us kids: one will later more or less starve to death. We are playing in the lamplight at building an Angkor Temple. Strident whistle blasts explode in the street, like lightning flasbing in all directions in the darkness, crisscrossing through the sky. Because a dark shape, more furtive than a shadow, had spun past the window. The street is an abyss, the windows of the poor open onto infinity. Downstairs some bobbies, carefully avoiding getting bloodstains on their trouser cuffs, are bending over a pile of old rags and flesh. “It’s nothing, children. Be still now!” But we had overheard whispering, we discovered a dark infinity in the windows, we sensed the profundity of the silence.

... And that hunted Jewish couple, in another city, with whom the child died on a happy June evening. There were no more candles, there was no more money, the room was bare. We had gone without eating in order to pay for the doctor’s useless final visit. Reflected light from a café across the street projected the backward silhouette of a sign on the ceiling.
We don’t need gas explosions burying miners, communiqués from quiet sectors where thirty men spill out all the blood of their bodies (nothing worth reporting), memories of executions, the history of crushed insurrections, memoirs of deportees and prisoners, we need no naturalist novels to understand our nothingness. But b of us has all that behind him.
The snow track faded on the river bordered by dark granite. The dark shape of the Winter Palace stood out vaguely among the shadows. In that corner – I knew without thinking – between two bay windows dominating a wide panorama of river and town, stood the Autocrat’s desk, on which his cigarette holder was lying.
A buddy’s jibe: “Man. The thinking reed! They taught him to stop thinking years ago. Today they dry him out; soften him up~ and weave baskets out of him for every use, my friend, including the least appetizing. Pascal didn’t think of that?”
Now things will change. Now we are all: dictatorship of the proletariat. Dictatorship of those who were nothing the day before. I break out laughing, alone in the dark, to think that my papers are in order, that I am using my name – that in my pocket I have an order in the name of the Federated Republic enjoining
“all revolutionary authorities to lend aid and assistance to Comrade —— in the performance of his functions.”
and that I am a member of the governing party which openly exercises a monopoly of power, unmasks every lie, holds the sword unsheathed, ideas out in the open.
I laugh climbing the hard snowbank up to the embankment. I trip over black potholes which I know to be white – thus black and white can be one and the same.
A harsh voice, piercing the night hails me:
“Hey, there! Come out in the open!”
Then, more slowly, as I approach the invisible shouter:
“What do you think you’re doing here?”
A ruddy glow spills out from behind the sharp corner of a woodpile. I perceive a heap of glowing coals and, near the coals, a soldier freezing in his long overcoat, which skirts the ground. The man is standing guard over this precious wood, which people come to steal, log by log, from the riverside.
“You got a permit to go around at night?”
I have one. He examines it. Either he doesn’t care or can’t read. It is a typewritten permit. The typist mistakenly put her carbon wrong side up, and the writing on the back is illegible. It suddenly reminds me of those advertising handbills which, folded, look like halves of bank notes. If I closed my eyes, I could see a piece of the sidewalk at the corner of the Place de la République and Boulevard du Temple again. The soldier hands me back my paper. We are cold. We are both dressed in the same rough gray cloth which looks so much like the Russian soil. We are the dictatorship of the proletariat.
He says:
“They steal the wood; it’s incredible how they steal. I’m sure that if I walked around the stock, I’d find somebody on the other side handing logs down to the Neva. There’s a hole on the ice out there. A while ago the man on guard finally fired a shot, to scare the thief. He was a twelve-year-old kid, whose mother sent him out every night She waited for him under one of the gates on the embankment, No. it The kid got scared. He fell right into the hole with a log on his head. He was never seen again. I pulled the log out when I got there. I found a wood-soled shoe at the edge of the hole. Look.”
There, in the snow turned gold by the glow of the coals, was the dark print of a little schoolboy’s foot.
“There’s always a strong current under the ice,” said the soldier.

He had taken me for another wood thief at first. I could have been one. People steal the wood that belongs to everyone, in order to live. Fire is life, like bread. But I belong to the governing party and I am “responsible,” to use the accepted term, that is to say, when all is said and done, in command. My ration of warmth and bread is a little more secure, a little larger. And it’s unjust I know It And I take it It is necessary to live in order to conquer; and not for me, for the Revolution. A child was drowned today for the equivalent of my ration of warmth and bread. I owe him its full measure in human weight: flesh and consciousness. All of us alike. And he who is dishonest with himself, who takes it easy, holds back, or takes advantage, is the lowest of swine. I know some. They an useful, nonetheless. They also serve. Perhaps they even serve better, with their oblivious way of profiting from the new inequality, than those who feel guilty. They pick out furniture for their offices; they demand automobiles, for their time is precious; they wear Rosa Luxembourg’s picture on medallions an their lapels. I console myself by thinking that history naturally turns these people, despite themselves, into martyrs quite as good as the others. When the Whites capture Reds, they hang the phonies from the same limbs as the genuine articles.

I move on through the night: on the left I should soon see, through this crosshatching of spindly branches, the vast horseshoe of Uritski Square with its granite column and its four-home chariot surging forward atop Headquarters Arch in a motionless gallop. I think about those bronzes in the same way as I would place my hand on them, to refresh my soul. I too need all my lucidity in order to find my own way through another darkness. On the right, pale lights flicker under a row of high windows, glimpsed slantwise between white columns. The Special Commission works day and night. That is us too. The implacable side of our face we turn to the world. We, the destroyers of prisons, the liberators, freedmen, yesterday’s convicts, often marked indelibly by our chains, we who investigate, search out, arrest we, judges, jailers, executioners, we!
We have conquered everything and everything has slipped out of our grasp. We have conquered bread, and there is famine. We have declared peace to a war-weary world, and war has moved into every house. We have proclaimed the liberation of men, and we need prisons, an “iron” discipline – yes, to pour our human weakness into brazen molds in order to accomplish what is perhaps beyond our strength – and we are the bringers of dictatorship. We have proclaimed fraternity, but it is “fraternity and death” in reality. We have founded the Republic of Labor, and the factories are dying, grass is growing in their yards. We wanted each to give according to his strength and each to receive according to his needs; and here we are, privileged in the middle of generalized misery, since we are less hungry than others!
Will we succeed in overthrowing the ancient law which bends us to its will at the very moment when we believe we are escaping it?
The Gospel said “Love one another” and “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Nothing but the sword is left under the crucifix. “Whoever would save his soul will lose it ...” Well, I’ll be glad to lose my soul. Who cares? It would be a strange luxury to worry about it today. Old texts, old, old inner captivity. What haven’t they built on the Gospel! Destroy! Destroy! The main thing is to destroy thoroughly.

To be afraid of words, of old ideas, of old feelings, those feelings that are so firmly riveted into our beings, by which the old world still holds us. A poor fighter he who holds back thinking, when it is necessary to reload your rifle and shoot with the greatest concentration – like shooting at dummies on a rifle range – at the men climbing that hill over there. Simple truths, sure, hard as granite, formulated with algebraic clarity; that is what we need. We are millions: the masses. The class which, owning nothing, has nothing to lose but its chains. The world must be made over. For this: conquer, hold on, survive at any cost. The tougher and stronger we are, the less it will cost. Tough and strong toward aura selves first. Revolution is a job that must be done without weakness. We are but the instruments of a necessity which carries us along. drags us forward, lifts us up, and which will doubtless pass over our dead bodies. We are not chasing after some dream of justice – as the young idiots who write in little magazines say-we are doing what must be done, what cannot be left undone. The old world dug its own grave: it is now falling in. Let’s give it a little shove. Millions of men who were nothing are rising into life: they are unable not to rise. We are those millions. Our only choice is to understand this and to accomplish our task with our eyes open. Through this consent, through this clear-sightedness, we escape from blind fate. All that was lost will be found again.

The square is lined with dark old palaces. At the bottom, the Maria Palace, that low edifice with an ill-defined shape. The Imperial Council used to meet there. There’s a big Repin painting showing that council: busts of bemedaled old men posing around a semicircular table. They appear through a yellow-green aquarium light which makes them all look dead. At the center, the Emperor, the portrait of an obliterated face. Those thick necks resting on embroidered collars have all been smashed by bullets. If any one of these great dignitaries still escapes us, it is probably that old man with the big bony nose drooping over flabby lips who sells his daughters’ old shawls in the mornings at the Oats Market ... Thick peasant fingers test and fondle the beautiful cashmeres.

On the right in the indistinct light falling from the windows of the Astoria, the former German Embassy stands behind its massive columns which support no pediment. There used to be some bronze horses on top. During the first days of the war, furious crowds toppled these statues, threw them down to the pavement from their high granite perch, and dragged them to the neighboring canal where they are still under the ice. Behind the embassy’s barred windows there remains only the simple desolation of places long since plundered. Bandits get in through the courtyards and live there, careful that no light can be seen from outside to betray their presence. They play cards, drinking old cognac swiped from the cellars of great houses or fiery brandy fabricated in secret stills on the outskirts of town. Girls with lips painted fiery red, with names like Katka-Little-Apple, Dunya-the-Snake, Shura-Slant-Eyes (also known as The Killer), and Pug-Nose-Maria-Little-Cossack, who wear luxurious dirty underwear and dresses by the great couturiers, taken from empty apartments, sometimes peer out, invisible, from behind the dark windows of the great hail of the embassy, at our lighted windows across the way.
“The commissars live good,” says Katka.
“They sure live it up,” says Dunya, “with their short-haired whores, partying every night of the week.”
“I know one of them,” says Shura, “what a pervert.”
Her bitter laughter flashes through the darkened hail. A thin ray of light slides across the floor. A triumphantly masculine voice calls out:
“Hey, girls, we’re waiting!”
Another voice, a bass, is humming Stenka Razin’s Complaint.
There is also the huge dark mass of St. Isaac’s with its massive columns, its enormous archangels spreading their wings at each corner to the four corners of the earth, its steeples, its gold-plated cupola visible from far out at sea ...
The windows of the Astoria burn until dawn. They are the only lighted ones in town, along with those of the Special Commission and the Committees. Nocturnal labor, danger, privilege, power. The powerful façade repels the darkness like a shell of light. People crossing the square in the evening on the way back home to their airless hovels cast hate-filled looks at the hotel of the commissars (“naturally most of them Jewish”) where it is warm and light and where there is food to eat, it’s certain, where no one fears house searches, where no one’s heart leaps into his mouth at the first sound of a doorbell ringing at night, where no one ever hears rifle butts falling on the doorsteps ... Passers-by murmur: “A fine trap. You could catch the whole lot of them at once!”
First House of Soviets. I push through the revolving door. From the hotel desk the single eye of a machine gun fixes its infinite black gaze on me. The machine gunner dozes, his sheepskin hat pulled down to his eyes.

This is the threshold of power. All who cross over this doorstep know what they want, what is necessary, and feel themselves under the great shadow of the Revolution; armed, carried forward, disciplined, by the structure of the Party. Droning voices trail out from the guardroom. A gilded plaque fastened to the open door reads (in French): Coiffeur à l’entresol. Another sign in black ink: Present your papers when requesting your pass. You need a pass, which you return on the way out, to get in to the people who live in this building; these little papers are then sent on to the Special Commission. Somebody collects them. Somebody has to know who comes to see me at what time. We must not be allowed to be killed with impunity; we must not be allowed to destroy, we must not be allowed to know strangers, for we have power, and the power belongs to the Revolution.
“Evening, Ryjik.”
He comes out to meet me, carefully carrying his tin teapot from which scalding steam is escaping. Ruddy stubble covers his face up to his eyes. He is in slippers: the broad folds of a magnificent pair of cavalry breeches (raspberry colored) float around his hips. Why do they call these breeches gallifets? Ryjik wears a satisfied smile.

“You’re looking at my gallifets? What material! Take a look, feel it. A real find, eh? And a love letter in the pocket my friend ... Come up to my room, you’ll see Arkadi: I have your newspapers.”
Red carpets muffle our steps. This is a huge stone ship, am pointed like a luxury liner anchored in the polar city. Wide corridors, oak doors marked with discreet gold numbers. The calm is profound, the warmth – after the nocturnal cold – like a hothouse. Isn’t one of these doors going to open on a haughty couple? She, shapely in furs crackling with electricity, her mouth a purple-blue line; he, slender, high cheekboned, a flash of light dancing off his monocle.
... A champagne bucket behind then in the room leaves a silver glow. They pass like phantoms: I wouldn’t even turn around ... A door has opened quietly, the phantoms vanish.
“Come on in,” says Ryjik, appearing in the doorway.
I can already see Arkadi’s oriental profile in a mirror. Shapely in his close-fitting black uniform, his waist cinched by narrow Montagnard belt with sculptured silver pendants, a large metal insignia – silver and red – on his right breast, like a commander’s star; he is smoking, leaning back on the divan. Without smiling, he shows his handsome white teeth. Ryjik pours us tea.
“Here are your newspapers,” Arkadi says to me. “From now on they’ll be a hundred and twenty rubles a copy.”
(A hundred and twenty czarist rubles, out of circulation.)
“Your smugglers are too much. It was eighty three weeks ago.”
The package, tied with heavy twine, smells of printers’ ink. L’Intransigent, Le Matin, the Manchester Guardian, Corriere della Sera, bought in Vyborg ... Men, eyes peering out of white furs, ears straining to hear the slightest crackle of branches, cross the front lines bent under the weight of these bundles. Sometimes explosions shatter the absurd silence around them; running, they pull long-range Mausers out of their frozen wooden holsters and crouch even closer to the snow; inside their chests, startled-beast terror changes into the will to kill, and an extraordinary lucidity bursts inside their skulls.
“They’re still expensive,” I say.
“They say two of their men got killed during the past two weeks: that’s certainly worth two raises of twenty rubles a copy. And it’s true. Jurgensohn knows that two bodies were picked up in the zone. The place is getting hot.”
Ryjik says:
“They haven’t delivered any bread for the last three days in the Moscow-Narva district. Ataev claims that the trains take twenty days to reach us instead of eight Nothing to burn. There’s gonna be trouble in the factories.”
“Rather!” snapped Arkadi between his white teeth.
“I think we should put out emergency calls for special conferences of non-Party people, or the discontent will break out by itself. I suggested it at Smolny.”
“... better lock up the Left Social Revolutionaries first ... According to our informers, they’re cooking up something. Goldin has arrived, it must be for a putsch.”
“Indeed,” I say, “I’d like to see him.”
“He’s staying here, Room 120.”
The comrade who’s preparing a putsch against us is right downstairs. Handsome, daring, and sensual, he seems to have been playing with death – his own and other people’s – for years.
“I suggested,” resumed Arkadi, “arresting him tonight if not sooner: better before than afterward. The Commission wouldn’t hear of it. Misplaced scruples.”
The conversation breaks off. Three o’clock sounds. Ryjik wipes his lips with the back of his hand and asks:
“Do you know how people in town spell out S.B.N.E. [Supreme Board for National Economy]?”
A great guffaw is already stretching his jolly red cheeks.
“No? Well, it seems it stands for ‘Slave But Never Eat.’ Not bad, eh?”
We laugh. Arkadi yawns. He spends his days and part of his nights at the Special Commission. He does everything himself, with precise movements, a clipped voice designed for command, and shining teeth. Difficult raids, arrests of men who must be taken by surprise before they can fire their Browning; complicated investigations, and probably also automobile rides through the rising mist at dawn down lanes lined with dark pines and spindly bushes fleshed with white, toward that little wood located seven vents out on the Novgorod road where ... In the back seat of the Renault, opposite two silent Latvians, sit two pale handcuffed passengers chain-smoking – impatiently lighting a fresh cigarette with slightly trembling bands from the dying one as if it were essential that this infinite dying fire should be kept going ... An aura surrounds them. Their sprouting beards (depending on which way the shadows fall) give them faces like evil Christs or pure-browed criminals. They say that it’s cold; they converse about indifferent matters in hoarse cracking voices ... Back in his room – a room identical to this one, except for a portrait hanging above the couch: Liebknecht’s head [1], thrown back with a horrible red carnation blooming at the temple – Arkadi pours himself a big glass of confiscated samogon (Russian “moonshine”), a fiery brew that rasps the throat and numbs the brain. And so he will be able to sleep until it’s time for interrogations. He has the regular features, narrow, fleshy eagle nose, and green eyes flecked with yellow and white of a falconer of Adjaristan, his native land. Adjaristan wit its hot rains pelting the red earth with liquid hail. Adjaristan with its mimosas blooming in the damp shadows, its tea bushes on pyramidal hills, the palm-lined walks of Batum, its little Greek cafés, rows of scorched mountains, white minarets towering over flat roofs, brown tobacco leaves drying on racks; Adjaristan with its veiled women who are submissive, beautiful, and industrious.

I open the newspapers: Le Journal, wire dispatch in Le Matin: Tragedy on Rue Mogodor: “She was cheating on him; he kills her and then commits suicide.” Do they think they’re alone in the world? Rue du Croissant at this hour: presses rolling breathlessly in the print shops; bicycle delivery men brush past night revelers as they slip away on their silent machines. Old Fernand, the good, melancholy hobo, wanders along the sidewalk headed God knows where ... Terror in Petrograd. “Bolshevism is at bay; only its Chinese praetorians still defend it ...” Arkadi! Ryjik! Listen to what they are saying about us! Apoplectic Socialists, seeing the inadequacy of the blockade, whose inhumanity they condemn, pronounce themselves, with words of triple meaning, in favor of military intervention, on the condition (for Woodrow Wilson is a prophet) that the sovereignty of the Russian people will not be impaired ... They dream of bayonets which respect the law. We sense fear, stupidity, hatred sweating through these printed lines. How they long for our death back there, for the death of the Republic whose insignia you wear on your chest, Arkadi, for which we do every sort of job, which we want to see survive because it is still the greatest hope, the birth of a new kind of justice, honesty in deeds and words – implacable deeds and truthful words! – the work of those who have always been vanquished, always duped first and then massacred, who were nothing yesterday, who are still nothing in the rest of the world!

1. Karl Liebknecht (1871-1919), German revolutionary and martyr. He was the only member of the Reichstag to vote against the war in 1914 and was jailed for pacifism in 1916. Freed in 1918, he founded the Spartacus League and was shot in the head during the workers’ uprising of 1919, along with his collaborator, Rosa Luxembourg. – Trans.

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