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Authors: Victor Serge, Willard R. Trask, Susan Sontag

The case of comrade tulayev

VICTOR SERGE (1890–1947) was born Victor Kibalchich in Brussels in 1890, the son of Russian political exiles. As a young man, he lived in Paris, moving in anarchist circles and enduring five years in prison for his beliefs. In 1919, he went to Russia to support the Bolshevik Revolution. Traveling between Petrograd, Moscow, Berlin, and Vienna, Serge served as the editor of the journalCommunist International, but in 1928 his condemnation of Stalin's growing power led to his expulsion from the Communist Party and imprisonment. Released, Serge turned to writing fiction and history, only to be arrested again in 1933 and deported to Central Asia. International protests from eminent figures such as André Gide succeeded in securing Serge's freedom, and in 1936 he left Russia for exile in France. There Serge continued to write fiction, while struggling to expose the totalitarian character of the Soviet state; for a while he also aided Trotsky, translating a number of his works. After the German occupation of France, Serge fled to Mexico, where he died in 1947. Along with his most famous work,The Case of Comrade Tulayev, Serge's many books includeYear One of the Russian Revolution, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, From Lenin to Stalin, and the novelsConquered City, Midnight in the Century, Birth of Our Power, Men in Prison, andThe Long Dusk.

SUSAN SONTAG is the author of four novels,The Benefactor, Death Kit, The Volcano Lover, andIn America, which won the 2000 National Book Award for Fiction; a collection of stories,I, Etcetera; several plays, includingAlice in BedandLady from the Sea; and seven works of nonfiction, among themWhere the Stress FallsandRegarding the Pain of Others. Her books have been translated into thirty-two languages. In 2001, she was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for the body of her work; in 2003, she received the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.

THE CASE OF COMRADE TULAYEV

VICTOR SERGE

Translated from the French by

WILLARD R. TRASK

Introduction by

SUSAN SONTAG

NEW YORK REVIEW BOOKS

New York

CONTENTS

Biographical Notes

Title Page

Unextinguished (The Case for Victor Serge)

THE CASE OF COMRADE TULAYEV

Author's Note

1. Comets Are Born at Night

2. The Sword Is Blind

3. Men at Bay

4. To Build Is to Perish

5. Journey into Defeat

6. Every Man Has His Own Way of Drowning

7. The Brink of Nothing

8. The Road to Gold

9. Let Purity Be Treason

10. And Still the Floes Came Down…

Copyright and More Information

Unextinguished(The Case for Victor Serge)

“… after all, there is such a thing as truth.”

THE CASE OF COMRADE TULAYEV

How to explain the obscurity of one of the most compelling of twentieth-century ethical and literary heroes, Victor Serge? How to account for the neglect ofThe Case of Comrade Tulayev, a wonderful novel that has gone on being rediscovered and reforgotten ever since its publication, a year after Serge's death in 1947?

Is it because no country can fully claim him? “A political exile since my birth” — so Serge (real name: Victor Lvovich Kibalchich) described himself. His parents were opponents of tsarist tyranny who had fled Russia in the early 1880s, and Serge was born in 1890 “in Brussels, as it happened, in mid-journey across the world,” he relates in hisMemoirs of a Revolutionary, written in 1942 and 1943 in Mexico City, where, a penurious refugee from Hitler's Europe and Stalin's assassins at large, he spent his last years. Before Mexico, Serge had lived, written, conspired, and propagandized in six countries: Belgium, in his early youth and again in 1936; France, repeatedly; Spain, in 1917 — it was then that he adopted the pen name of Serge; Russia, the homeland he saw for the first time in early 1919, at the age of twenty-eight, when he arrived to join the Bolshevik Revolution; and Germany and Austria in the mid-1920s, on Comintern business. In each country his residence was provisional, full of hardship and contention, threatened. In several, it ended with Serge booted out, banished, obliged to move on.

Is it because he was not — the familiar model — a writer engaged intermittently in political partisanship and struggle, like Silone and Camus and Koestler and Orwell, but a lifelong activist and agitator? In Belgium, he militated in the Young Socialist movement, a branch of the Second International. In France, he became an anarchist (the so-called individualist kind), and for articles in the anarchist weekly he co-edited that expressed a modicum of sympathy for the notorious Bonnot gang after the bandits' arrest (there was never any question of Serge's complicity) and his refusal, after his arrest, to turn informer, was sentenced to five years of solitary confinement. In Barcelona following his release from prison, he quickly became disillusioned with the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists for their reluctance to attempt to seize power. Back in France, in late 1917 he was incarcerated for fifteen months, this time as (the words of the arrest order) “an undesirable, a defeatist, and a Bolshevik sympathizer.” In Russia, he joined the Communist Party, fought in the siege of Petrograd during the Civil War, was commissioned to examine the archives of the tsarist secret police (and wrote a treatise on state oppression), headed the administrative staff of the Executive Committee of the Third — Communist — International and participated in its first three congresses, and, distressed by the mounting barbarity of governance in the newly consolidated Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, arranged to be sent abroad by the Comintern in 1922 as a propagandist and organizer. (In this time there were more than a few freelance, foreign members of the Comintern, which was, in effect, the Foreign, or World Revolution, Department of the Russian Communist Party.) After the failure of revolution in Berlin and subsequent time spent in Vienna, Serge returned in 1926 to the USSR now ruled by Stalin and officially joined the Left Opposition, Trotsky's coalition, with which he had been allied since 1923: he was expelled from the Party in late 1927 and arrested soon after. All in all, Serge was to endure more than ten years of captivity for his serial revolutionary commitments. There is a problem for writers who exercise another, more strenuous profession full-time.

Is it because — despite all these distractions — he wrote so much? Hyperproductivity is not as well regarded as it used to be, and Serge was unusually productive. His published writings — almost all of which are out of print — include seven novels, two volumes of poetry, a collection of short stories, a late diary, his memoirs, some thirty political and historical books and pamphlets, three political biographies, and hundreds of articles and essays. And there was more: a memoir of the anarchist movement in pre-First World War France, a novel about the Russian Revolution, a short book of poems, and a historical chronicle of Year II of the Revolution, all confiscated when Serge was finally allowed to leave the USSR in 1936, as the consequence of his having applied to Glavlit, the literary censor, for an exit permit for his manuscripts — these have never been recovered — as well as a great deal of safely archived but still unpublished material. If anything, his being prolific has probably counted against him.

Is it because most of what he wrote does not belong to literature? Serge began writing fiction — his first novel,Men in Prison— when he was thirty-nine. Behind him lay more than twenty years' worth of works of expert historical assessment and political analysis, and a profusion of brilliant political and cultural journalism. He is commonly remembered, if at all, as a valiant dissident Communist, a clear-eyed, assiduous opponent of Stalin's counterrevolution. (Serge was the first to call the USSR a “totalitarian” state, in a letter he wrote to friends in Paris on the eve of his arrest in Leningrad in February 1933.) No twentieth-century novelist had anything like his firsthand experiences of insurgency, of intimate contact with epochal leaders, of dialogue with founding political intellectuals. He had known Lenin — Serge's wife Liubov Rusakova was Lenin's stenographer in 1921; Serge had translatedState and Revolutioninto French, and wrote a biography of Lenin soon after his death in January 1924. He was close to Trotsky, although they did not meet again after Trotsky's banishment in 1929; Serge was to translateThe Revolution Betrayedand other late writings and, in Mexico, where Trotsky had preceded him as a political refugee, collaborate with his widow on a biography. Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukács were among Serge's interlocutors, with whom he discussed, when they were all living in Vienna in 1924 and 1925, the despotic turn that the revolution had taken almost immediately, under Lenin. InThe Case of Comrade Tulayev, whose epic subject is the Stalinist state's murder of millions of the Party faithful as well as of most dissidents in the 1930s, Serge writes about a fate he himself most improbably, and just barely, escaped. Serge's novels have been admired principally as testimony; polemic; inspired journalism; fictionalized history. It is easy to underestimate the literary accomplishment of a writer the bulk of whose work is not literary.

Is it because no national literature can entirely claim him? Cosmopolitan by vocation, he was fluent in five languages: French, Russian, German, Spanish, and English. (He spent part of his childhood in England.) In his fiction, he has to be considered a Russian writer, bearing in mind the extraordinary continuity of Russian voices in literature — one whose forbears are Dostoevsky, the Dostoevsky ofThe House of the DeadandThe Devils, and Chekhov, and whose contemporary influences were the great writers of the 1920s, notably Boris Pilnyak, the Pilnyak ofThe Naked Year, Yevgeny Zamyatin, and Isaac Babel. But French remained his literary language. Serge's copious output as a translator was from Russian into French: works of Lenin, Trotsky, the founder of the Comintern Grigori Zinoviev, the pre-Bolshevik revolutionary Vera Figner (1852–1942), whose memoirs relate her twenty years of solitary confinement in a tsarist prison, and, among novelists and poets, of Andrei Biely, Fyodor Gladkov, and Vladimir Mayakovsky. And his own books were all written in French. A Russian writer who writes in French — it means that Serge remains absent, even as a footnote, from the histories of both modern French and Russian literature.

Is it because whatever stature he had as a literary writer was always politicized, that is, viewed as a moral achievement? His was the literary voice of a righteous political militancy, a narrowing prism through which to view a body of work that has other, nondidactic claims on our attention. During the late 1920s and the 1930s, he had been a much-published writer, at least in France, with an ardent if small constituency — a political constituency, of course, mainly of the Trotskyist persuasion. But in the last years, after Serge had been excommunicated by Trotsky, that constituency had abandoned him to the predictable calumnies of the pro-Soviet Popular Front press. And the socialist positions Serge espoused after arriving in Mexico in 1941, a year after Trotsky was axed by the executioner sent by Stalin, seemed to his remaining supporters to be indistinguishable from those of the social democrats. More isolated than ever, boycotted by both the right and the left back in postwar Western Europe, the ex-Bolshevik, ex-Trotskyist, anti-Communist Serge continued to write — mostly for the drawer. He did publish a short book,Hitler versus Stalin, collaborate with a Spanish comrade in exile on a political magazine (Mundo), and contribute regularly to a few magazines abroad, but — despite the efforts of admirers as influential as Dwight Macdonald in New York and Orwell in London to find him a publisher — two of Serge's last three novels, the late stories and poems, and the memoirs remained unpublished in any language until after, mostly decades after, his death.


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Is it because there were too many dualities in his life? He was a militant, a world-improver, to the end, which made him anathema to the right. (Even if, as he noted in his journal in February 1944, “Problems no longer have their former beautiful simplicity: it was convenient to live on antinomies like socialism or capitalism.”) But he was a knowledgeable enough anti-Communist to worry that the American and British governments had not grasped that Stalin's goal after 1945 was to take over all of Europe (at the cost of a Third World War), and this, in the era of widespread pro-Soviet or anti-anti-Communist bias among intellectuals in Western Europe, made Serge a renegade, a reactionary, a warmonger. “All the right enemies,” the old motto proclaims: Serge had too many enemies. As an ex-, now anti-, Communist, he was never penitent enough. He deplores but he does not regret. He has not given up on the idea of radical social change because of the totalitarian outcome of the Russian Revolution. For Serge — to this extent he agrees with Trotsky — the revolution was betrayed. He is not saying it was a tragic illusion, a catastrophe for the Russian people, from the beginning. (But might Serge have said this had he lived another decade or more? Probably.) Finally, he was a lifelong practicing intellectual, which seemed to trump his achievement as a novelist, and he was a passionate political activist, which did not enhance his credentials as a novelist either.

Is it because he continued to the end to identify himself as a revolutionary, a vocation that is now so discredited in the prosperous world? Is it because, most implausibly, he insisted on being hopeful…still? “Behind us,” he wrote in 1943, inMemoirs of a Revolutionary, “lies a victorious revolution gone astray, several abortive attempts at revolution, and massacres in so great a number as to inspire a certain dizziness.” And yet Serge declares that “those were the only roads possible for us. And insists, “I have more confidence in mankind and in the future than ever before.” Surely this could not have been true.

Is it because, embattled and defeated as he was, his literary work refused to take on the expected cargo of melancholy? His indomitability is not as attractive to us as a more anguished reckoning. In his fiction, Serge writes about the worlds he has lived in, not about himself. It is a voice that forbids itself the requisite tones of despair or contrition or bewilderment — literary tones, as most people understand them — although Serge's own situation was increasingly grim. By 1947, he was desperately trying to get out of Mexico, where, by the terms of his visa, he was banned from all political activity, and, since an American visa was out of the question because of his Communist Party membership in the 1920s, to return to France. At the same time, incapable of being uninterested, unstimulated, wherever he was, he became fascinated by what he had observed on several trips around the country of the indigenous cultures and the landscape, and had begun a book about Mexico. The end was miserable. Shabbily dressed, ill-nourished, increasingly plagued by angina — worsened by the high altitude of Mexico City — he had a heart attack while out late one evening, hailed a taxi, and died in the backseat. The driver deposited him at a police station: it was two days before his family learned what had happened to him and were able to claim the body.

In short, there was nothing, ever, triumphant about his life, as much that of the eternal poor student as the militant on the run — unless one excepts the triumph of being immensely gifted and industrious as a writer; the triumph of being principled and also astute, and therefore incapable of keeping company with the faithful and the cravenly gullible and the merely hopeful; the triumph of being incorruptible as well as brave, and therefore on a different, lonely path from the liars and toadies and careerists; the triumph of being, after the early 1920s, right.

Because he was right, he has been punished as a writer of fiction. The truth of history crowds out the truth of fiction — as if one were obliged to choose between them…

Is it because the life was so steeped in historical drama as to overshadow the work? Indeed, some of his fervent supporters have asserted that Serge's greatest literary work was his own tumultuous, danger-filled, ethically stalwart life. Something similar has been said of Oscar Wilde, who himself could not resist the masochistic quip, “I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works.” Wilde was mistaken, and so is this misguided compliment to Serge. As is the case with most major writers, Serge's books are better, wiser, more important than the person who wrote them. To think otherwise is to condescend to Serge and to the very questions — How shall one live? How can I make sense of my own life? How can life be made better for those who are oppressed? — he honored by his lucidity, his rectitude, his valor, his defeats. While it is true that literature, particularly nineteenth-century Russian literature, is the home of these questions, it is cynical — or merely philistine — to consider as literary a life lived in their light. That would be to denigrate both morality and literature. History, too.

English-language readers of Serge today have to think themselves back to a time when most people accepted that the course of their lives would be determined by history rather than psychology, public rather than private crises. It was history, a particular historical moment, that drove Serge's parents out of tsarist Russia: the wave of repressiveness and state terror that followed the assassination of Alexander II by Narodnaya Volya (People's Will), the terrorist branch of the populist movement, in 1881. Serge's scientist father, Leon Kibalchich, at that time an officer in the Imperial Guard, belonged to a military group sympathetic to thenarodnik(populist) demands, and barely escaped being shot when the group was discovered. In his first refuge, Geneva, he met and married a radical student from St. Petersburg of Polish gentry origin, and the couple was to spend the rest of the decade, in the words of their second-generation political-exile son, commuting “in quest of their daily bread and of good libraries… between London (the British Museum), Paris, Switzerland, and Belgium.”

Revolution was at the heart of the socialist exile culture into which Serge was born: the quintessential hope, the quintessential intensity. “The conversations of grown-ups dealt with trials, executions, escapes, and Siberian highways, with great ideas incessantly argued over, and with the latest books about these ideas.” Revolution was the modern tragic drama. “On the walls of our humble and makeshift lodgings, there were always the portraits of men who had been hanged.” (One portrait, surely, was of Nikolai Kibalchich, a distant relative of his father, who was among the five conspirators convicted of assassinating Alexander II.)

Revolution entailed danger, the risk of death, the likelihood of prison. Revolution entailed hardship, privation, hunger. “I think that if anyone had asked me at the age of twelve, ‘What is life?' (and I often asked it of myself), I would have replied, ‘I do not know, but I can see that it means “Thou shalt think, thou shalt struggle, thou shalt be hungry.”'”

And it was. To read Serge's memoirs is to be brought back to an era that seems very remote today in its introspective energies and passionate intellectual quests and code of self-sacrifice and immense hope: an era in which the twelve-year-olds of cultivated parents might normally ask themselves “What is life?” Serge's cast of mind was not, for that time, precocious. It was the household culture of several generations of voraciously well-read idealists, many from the Slavic countries — the children of Russian literature, as it were. Staunch believers in science and human betterment, they were to provide the troops for many of the radical movements of the first third of the twentieth century; and were to be used, disillusioned, betrayed, and, if they happened to live in the Soviet Union, put to death. In his memoirs Serge reports his friend Pilnyak saying to him in 1933: “There isn't a single thinking adult in this country who hasn't thought that he might get shot.”

Starting in the late 1920s, the chasm between reality and propaganda widened drastically. It was the climate of opinion that made the courageous Romanian-born writer Panaït Istrati (1884–1935) consider withdrawing his truthful report on a sixteen-month stay in the Soviet Union in 1927–1928,Vers une autre flamme(Towards Another Flame), at the behest of his powerful French literary patron, Romain Rolland, which, when he did publish it, was rejected by all his former friends and supporters in the literary world; and that led André Malraux in his capacity as editor at Gallimard to turn down the adversarial biography of Stalin by the Russian-born Boris Souvarine (1895–1984; real name: Boris Lifchitz) as inimical to the cause of the Spanish Republic. (Istrati and Souvarine, who were close friends of Serge's, formed with him a kind of triumvirate of foreign-born francophone writers who, from the late 1920s on, assumed the thankless role of denouncing from the left — therefore, prematurely — what was happening in the Soviet Union.) To many living in the Depression-afflicted capitalist world, it seemed impossiblenotto sympathize with the struggle of this vast backward country to survive and to create, according to its stated aims, a new society based on economic and social justice. André Gide was being only a bit florid when he wrote in his journal in April 1932 that he would be willing to die for the Soviet Union:

In the abominable distress of the present world, new Russia's plan now seems to me salvation. There is nothing that does not persuade me of this! The miserable arguments of its enemies, far from convincing me, make my blood boil. And if my life were necessary to ensure the success of the USSR, I should give it at once … as have done, as will do, so many others, and without distinguishing myself from them.

As for what was actually happening in the USSR in 1932 — this is how Serge began “The Hospital in Leningrad,” a short story he wrote in Mexico City in 1946 that anticipates the narratives of Solzhenitsyn:

In 1932 I was living in Leningrad … Those were dark times, of shortages in the cities and famine in the villages, of terror, secret murder, and persecution of industrial managers and engineers, peasants, the religious, and those opposed to the regime. I belonged to the last category, which meant that at night, even in the depths of sleep, I never ceased to listen for the noises on the staircase, for the ascending footsteps heralding my arrest.

In October 1932, Serge wrote to the Central Committee of the Party appealing to be allowed to emigrate; permission was refused. In March 1933, Serge was arrested again, and after a term in the Lubyanka was sent into internal exile to Orenburg, a bleak town on the frontier between Russia and Kazakhstan. Serge's plight was the subject of immediate protests in Paris. At the International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture, a stellar gathering held in Paris in June 1935, presided over by Gide and Malraux, which was the climax of Comintern-designed efforts to mobilize unaffiliated progressive-minded writers in defense of the Soviet Union — this just as Stalin's program of framing and executing all the surviving members of the Bolshevik Old Guard was getting under way — “the case of Victor Serge” was raised by a number of delegates. The following year, Gide, who was about to leave, with entourage, for a triumphal tour of the Soviet Union on which great propaganda importance had been placed, went to see the Soviet ambassador in Paris requesting Serge's release. Rolland, on a return state visit to Russia, brought up the case with Stalin himself.

In April 1936, Serge (with his teenage son) was taken from Orenburg to Moscow, stripped of his Soviet citizenship, reunited with his mentally fragile wife and their infant daughter, and put on a train to Warsaw — the sole instance during the era of the Great Terror when a writer was liberated (that is, expelled from Soviet Russia) as the result of a foreign campaign of support. Undoubtedly, it helped enormously that the Belgian-born Russian was considered a foreigner.

After reaching Brussels in late April, Serge published an “Open Letter” to Gide in the French magazineEsprit, thanking him for a recent approach he had made to the Soviet authorities to try to recover Serge's confiscated manuscripts, and evoking some Soviet realities Gide might not hear about during his tour, such as the arrest and murder of many writers and the total suppression of intellectual freedom. (Serge had already sought contact with Gide in early 1934, sending him a letter from Orenburg about their shared conceptions of freedom in literature.) The two writers were able to meet secretly several times after Gide's return, in Paris in November 1936 and in Brussels in January 1937. Serge's journal accounts of these meetings provide a poignant contrast: Gide the consummate insider, the master on whom the mantle of the Great Writer had descended, and Serge, the knight of lost causes, itinerant, impoverished, always in jeopardy. (Of course, Gide was wary of Serge — of being influenced, of being misled.)

The French writer of the period whom Serge does resemble — in the starkness of his rectitude, his incessant studiousness, his principled renunciation of comfort, possessions, security — is his younger contemporary and fellow political militant, Simone Weil. It is more than likely that they met in Paris in 1936, shortly after Serge's liberation, or in 1937. Since June 1934, right after his arrest, Weil had been among those committed to keeping alive “the case of Victor Serge” and making direct protests to the Soviet authorities. They had a close friend in common, Souvarine; both wrote regularly for the syndicalist magazineLa Révolution prolétarienne. Weil was well known to Trotsky — the twenty-five-year-old Weil had had an evening of face-to-face debate with Trotsky on his brief visit to Paris in December 1934, when Weil arranged for him to use an apartment belonging to her parents for a clandestine political meeting — and figures in a letter to Serge in July 1936 in response to the suggestion that she collaborate on the new magazine Serge hoped to found. And, during Weil's two months in late summer 1936 as a volunteer with an international militia fighting for the Spanish Republic, her principal political contact, whom she saw upon arriving in Barcelona, was the dissident Communist Julian Gorkin, another close friend of Serge's.


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Trotskyist comrades had been the most active campaigners for Serge's freedom, and while in Brussels Serge gave his adherence to the Fourth International — as the league of Trotsky's supporters called themselves — although he knew the movement did not advance a viable alternative to the Leninist doctrines and practice that had led to Stalinist tyranny. (For Trotsky, the crime was that thewrongpeople were being shot.) His departure for Paris in 1937 was followed by the open rift with Trotsky, who, from his new, Mexican exile, denounced Serge as a closet anarchist; out of respect and affection for Trotsky, Serge refused to return the attack. Unfazed by the obloquy of being perceived as a turncoat, a traitor to the left, he published more against-the-stream tracts and dossiers on the destiny of the revolution from Lenin to Stalin, and another novel,Midnight in the Century(1939), set five years earlier, mostly in a remote town resembling Orenburg to which persecuted members of the Left Opposition have been deported. It is the very first depiction in a novel of the Gulag — properly,GULAG, the acronym for that vast internal carceral empire whose official name in Russian translates as Chief Administration of Camps.Midnight in the Centuryis dedicated to comrades from the most honorable of the radical parties in the Spanish Republic, the dissenting Communist — that is, anti-Stalinist — Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM); its leader Andrès Nin, executed by Soviet agents in 1937, was a cherished friend of Serge's.

In June 1940, after the German occupation of Paris, Serge fled to the south of France, eventually reaching the haven set up by the heroic Varian Fry who, in the name of an American private group calling itself the Emergency Rescue Committee, was to help some two thousand scholars, writers, artists, musicians, and scientists find an exit from Hitler's Europe. There, in the villa outside Marseilles that its inmates and visitors — they included André Breton, Max Ernst, and André Masson — dubbed Espervisa, Serge continued work on the new, more ambitious novel about the reign of state murder in Soviet Russia he had begun in Paris in early 1940. When a Mexican visa finally came through for Serge (Breton and the others were all admitted to the United States), he set out in March 1941 on the long precarious sea voyage. Delayed for questioning, then jailed by Vichy government officials when the cargo ship stopped in Martinique, delayed again for want of transit visas in the Dominican Republic, where during the enforced sojourn he wrote a political tract designed for a Mexican public (Hitler versus Stalin), and delayed again in Havana, where, jailed once more, he went on with his novel, Serge did not arrive in Mexico until September. He finishedThe Case of Comrade Tulayevthe following year.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, nothing of the novel's once controversial aura remains. No sane person now can dispute the toll of suffering that the Bolshevik system inflicted on the Russian people. Then, the consensus was elsewhere, producing the scandal of Gide's unfavorable report on his trip,Return from the USSR(1937): Gide remained even after his death in 1951 the great left-wing writer who had betrayed Spain. The attitude was reproduced in Sartre's notorious refusal to broach the subject of the Gulag on the grounds that it would discourage the just militancy of the French working class. (“Il faut pas faire désesperer Billancourt.”) For most writers who identified with the left in those decades, or who simply thought of themselves as against war (and were appalled at the prospect of a Third World War), condemning the Soviet Union was at the very least problematic.

As if to confirm the anxiety on the left, those who had no problem denouncing the Soviet Union seemed to be precisely those who had no qualms about being racist or anti-Semitic or contemptuous of the poor; illiberals, who had never heard the siren call of idealism or been moved to any active sympathy with the excluded and the persecuted. The vice president of a major American insurance company, who was also America's greatest twentieth-century poet, might welcome Serge's testimony. Thus section XIV of Wallace Stevens's magisterial long poem “Esthétique du mal,” written in 1945, opens with:

Victor Serge said, “I followed his argument

With the blank uneasiness which one might feel

In the presence of a logical lunatic.”

He said it of Konstantinov. Revolution

Is the affair of logical lunatics.

The politics of emotion must appear

To be an intellectual structure.

That it seems odd to find Serge evoked in a poem of Stevens's suggests how thoroughly Serge has been forgotten, for he was indeed a considerable presence in some of the most influential serious magazines of the 1940s. Stevens is likely to have been a reader ofPartisan Review, if not of Dwight Macdonald's maverick radical magazinePolitics, which published Serge (and Simone Weil, too). Macdonald and his wife, Nancy, had been a lifeline, financially and otherwise, to Serge during the desperate months in Marseilles and the obstacle-ridden voyage, and went on with their assiduous help once Serge and his family were in Mexico. Sponsored by Macdonald, Serge had begun writing forPartisan Reviewin 1938, and continued to send articles from this last, improbable residence. In 1942, he became Mexican correspondent of the New York anti-Communist biweeklyThe New Leader(Macdonald strongly disapproved), and later began contributing — on Orwell's recommendation — toPolemicand to Cyril Connolly'sHorizonin London.

Minority magazines; minority views. Excerpted first inPartisan Review, Czeslaw Milosz's masterly portraits of the mutilation of the writer's honor, the writer's conscience, under communism,The Captive Mind(1953), was discounted by much of the American literary public as a work of cold war propaganda by the hitherto unknown émigré Polish writer. Similar suspicions persisted into the 1970s: when Robert Conquest's implacable, irrefutable chronicle of the state slaughters of the 1930s,The Great Terror, appeared in 1969, the book could be regarded in many quarters as controversial — its conclusions perhaps unhelpful, its implications downright reactionary.

Those decades of turning a blind eye to what went on in Communist regimes, specifically the conviction that to criticize the Soviet Union was to give aid and comfort to Fascists and warmongers, seem almost incomprehensible now. In the early twenty-first century, we have moved on to other illusions — other lies that intelligent people with good intentions and humane politics tell themselves and their supporters in order not to give aid and comfort to their enemies.

There have always been people to argue that the truth is sometimes inexpedient, counterproductive — a luxury. (This is known as thinking practically, or politically.) And, on the other side, the well-intentioned are understandably reluctant to jettison commitments, views, and institutions in which much idealism has been invested. Situations do arise in which truth and justice may seem incompatible. And there may be even more resistance to perceiving the truth than there is to acknowledging the claims of justice. It seems all too easy for peoplenotto recognize the truth, especially when it may mean having to break with, or be rejected by, a community that supplies a valued part of their identity.

A different outcome is possible if one hears the truth from someone to whom one is disposed to listen. How was the Marquis de Custine, during his five-month tour of Russia a century earlier, able — prophetically — to understand how central to this society were the extravagances of despotism and submissiveness and indefatigable lying for the benefit of foreigners, which he described in his journal in the form of letters,Letters from Russia? Surely it mattered that Custine's lover was Polish, the young Count Ignacy Gurowski, who must have been eager to tell him of the horrors of tsarist oppression. Why was Gide, among all the left-wing visitors to the Soviet Union in the 1930s, the one to remain unseduced by the rhetoric of Communist equality and revolutionary idealism? Perhaps because he had been primed to detect the dishonesty and the fear of his hosts by the intrusive briefings of the unimpeachable Victor Serge.

Serge, modestly, says it only takes some clarity and independence to tell the truth. InMemoirs of a Revolutionary, he writes:

I give myself credit for having seen clearly in a number of important situations. In itself, this is not so difficult to achieve, and yet it is rather unusual. To my mind, it is less a question of an exalted or shrewd intelligence, than of good sense, goodwill and a certain sort of courage to enable one to rise above both the pressures of one's environment and the natural inclination to close one's eyes to facts, a temptation that arises from our immediate interests and from the fear which problems inspire in us. A French essayist has said: “What is terrible when you seek the truth, is that you find it.” You find it, and then you are no longer free to follow the biases of your personal circle, or to accept fashionable clichés.

“What is terrible when you seek the truth…” A dictum to be pinned above every writer's desk.

The ignominious obtuseness and lies of Dreiser, Rolland, Henri Barbusse, Louis Aragon, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Halldór Laxness, Egon Erwin Kisch, Walter Duranty, Leon Feuchtwanger, and the like are mostly forgotten. And so are those who opposed them, who fought for the truth. The truth, once acquired, is ungrateful. We can't remember everyone. What is remembered is not testimony but … literature. The presumptive case for exempting Serge from the oblivion that awaits most heroes of truth lies, finally, in the excellence of his fiction, above allThe Case of Comrade Tulayev. But to be a literary writer perceived only or mainly as a didactic writer; to be a writer without a country, a country in whose literary canon his fiction would find a place — these elements of Serge's complex fate continue to obscure this admirable, enthralling book.

Fiction, for Serge, is truth — the truth of self-transcendence, the obligation to give voice to those who are mute or have been silenced. He disdained novels of private life, most of all autobiographical novels. “Individual existences were of no interest to me — particularly my own,” he remarks in theMemoirs. In a journal entry (March 1944), Serge explains the larger reach of his idea of fictional truth:

Perhaps the deepest source is the feeling that marvelous life is passing, flying, slipping inexorably away and the desire to detain it in flight. It was this desperate feeling that drove me, around the age of sixteen, to note the precious instant, that made me discover thatexistence(human, “divine”)is memory. Later, with the enrichment of the personality, one discovers its limits, the poverty and the shackles of the self, one discovers that one has only one life, an individuality forever circumscribed, but which contains many possible destinies, and … mingles … with the other human existences, and the earth, the creatures, everything. Writing then becomes a quest of poly-personality, a way of living diverse destinies, of penetrating into others, of communicating with them … of escaping from the ordinary limits of the self … (Doubtless there are other kinds of writers, individualists, who only seek their own self-assertion and can't see the world except through themselves.)

The point of fiction was storytelling, world-evoking. This credo drew Serge as a fiction writer to two seemingly incompatible ideas of the novel.

One is the historical panorama, in which single novels have their place as episodes of a comprehensive story. The story, for Serge, was heroism and injustice in the first half of the European twentieth century, and could have started with a novel set in anarchist circles in France just before 1914 (about which he did finish a memoir, seized by the GPU). Of the novels Serge was able to complete, the time line runs from the First through the Second World War — that is, fromMen in Prison, written in Leningrad at the end of the 1920s and published in Paris in 1930, toLes Années sans pardon(The Pitiless Years), his last novel, written in Mexico in 1946 and not published until 1971, in Paris. (It has yet to be translated into English.)The Case of Comrade Tulayev, whose material is the Great Terror of the 1930s, comes towards the end of the cycle. Characters recur — a classic feature of novels, like some of Balzac's, conceived as a sequence — though not as many as one might expect, and none of them an alter ego, a stand-in for Serge himself. The High Commissar for Security Erchov, the prosecutor Fleischman, the loathsome apparatchik Zvyeryeva, and the virtuous Left Oppositionist Ryzhik ofThe Case of Comrade Tulayevhad all figured inConquered City(1932), Serge's third novel, which takes place during the siege of Petrograd, and, probably, in the lost novel,La Tourmente(The Storm), which was the sequel toConquered City. (Ryzhik is also an important character, and Fleischman a minor one, inMidnight in the Century.)

Of this project we have only fragments. But if Serge did not commit himself doggedly to a chronicle, like Solzhenitsyn's sequence of novels about the Lenin era, it is not simply because Serge lacked the time to complete his sequence, but because another idea of the novel was at work, somewhat subverting the first. Solzhenitsyn's historical novels are all of a piece from a literary point of view, and none the better for that. Serge's novels illustrate several different conceptions of how to narrate and to what end. The “I” ofMen in Prison(1930) is a medium for giving voice to the others, many others; it is a novel of compassion, of solidarity. “I don't want to write memoirs,” he said in a letter to Istrati, who did the preface to Serge's first novel. The second novel,The Birth of Our Power(1931), uses a mix of voices — the first-person “I” and “we” and an omniscient third person. The multivolume chronicle, the novel as sequel, was not the best vessel for Serge's development as a literary writer, but remained a kind of default position from which, always working under harassment and financial strain, he could generate new fictional tasks.


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Serge's literary affinities, and many of his friendships, were with the great modernists of the 1920s, such as Pilnyak, Zamyatin, Sergei Esenin, Mayakovsky, Pasternak, Daniil Kharms (his brother-in-law), and Mandelstam — rather than with realists like Gorky, a relative on his mother's side, and Alexei Tolstoy. But in 1928, when Serge started writing fiction, the miraculous new literary era was virtually over, killed by the censors, and soon the writers themselves, most of them, were to be arrested and killed or to commit suicide. The broad-canvas novel, the narrative with multiple voices (another example:Noli me tangereby the late-nineteenth-century Filipino revolutionary José Rizal), might well be the preferred form of a writer with a powerful political consciousness — the political consciousness that was certainly not wanted in the Soviet Union, where, Serge knew, there was no chance of his being translated and published. But it is also the form of some of the enduring works of literary modernism, and has spawned several new fictional genres. Serge's third novel,Conquered City, is a brilliant work in one of these genres, the novel with a city as protagonist (asMen in Prisonhad as protagonist “that terrible machine, prison”) — clearly influenced by Biely'sPetersburg, and byManhattan Transfer(he cites Dos Passos as an influence), and possibly byUlysses, a book he greatly admired.

“I had the strong conviction of charting a new road for the novel,” Serge says in theMemoirs. One way in which Serge is not charting a new road is his view of women, reminiscent of the great Soviet films about revolutionary ideals, from Eisenstein to Alexei Gherman. In this entirely men-centered society of challenge — and ordeal, and sacrifice — women barely exist, at least not positively, except through being the love objects or wards of very busy men. For revolution, as Serge describes it, is itself a heroic, masculinist enterprise, invested with the values of virility: courage, daring, endurance, decisiveness, independence, ability to be brutal. An attractive woman, someone warm, cherishing, sturdy, often a victim, cannot have these manly characteristics; therefore she cannot be other than a revolutionary's junior partner. The one powerful woman inThe Case of Comrade Tulayev, the Bolshevik prosecutor Zvyeryeva (who will soon have her turn to be arrested and killed), is repeatedly characterized by her pathetically needy sexuality (in one scene she is shown masturbating) and physical repulsiveness. All the men in the novel, villainous or not, have forthright carnal needs and unaffected sexual self-confidence.

The Case of Comrade Tulayevrelates a set of stories, of fates, in a densely populated world. Besides the cast of supportive women, there are at least eight major characters: two emblems of disaffection, Kostia and Romachkin, lowly bachelor clerks who share a single room with a partition in a communal apartment in Moscow — they open the novel — and the veteran loyalists, careerists, and sincere Communists, Ivan Kondratiev, Artyem Makeyev, Stefan Stern, Maxim Erchov, Kiril Rublev, old Ryzhik, who are, one by one, arrested, interrogated, and sentenced to die. (Only Kondratiev is spared, and sent to a remote post in Siberia, by an arbitrarily benign whim of “the Chief,” as Stalin is called in the novel.) Whole lives are portrayed, each of which could make a novel. The account of Makeyev's ingeniously staged arrest while attending the opera (at the end of Chapter 4) is in itself a short story worthy of Chekhov. And the drama of Makeyev — his antecedents, ascent to power (he is governor of Kurgansk), sudden arrest on a visit to Moscow, imprisonment, interrogation, confession — is only one of the plots elaborated inThe Case of Comrade Tulayev.

No interrogator is a major character. Among the minor characters is Serge's fictional epitome of the fellow traveler of influence. In a late scene, set in Paris, “Professor Passereau, famous in two hemispheres, President of the Congress for the Defense of Culture,” tells the young émigré, Xenia Popov, vainly seeking his intervention on behalf of the most sympathetic of Serge's Old Bolshevik protagonists: “For the justice of your country I have a respect which is absolute … If Rublev is innocent, the Supreme Tribunal will accord him justice.” As for the eponymous Tulayev, the high government official whose murder sets off the arrest and execution of the others, he makes only the briefest appearance early in the novel. He is there to be shot.

Serge's Tulayev, at any rate his murder and its consequences, seems obviously to point back to Sergei Kirov, the head of the Leningrad Party organization, whose assassination in his office on December 1, 1934, by a young Party member named Leon Nikolayev became Stalin's pretext for the years of slaughter that followed, which decimated the loyal Party membership and killed or kept imprisoned for decades millions of ordinary citizens. It may be difficult not to readThe Case of Comrade Tulayevas a roman à clef, though Serge in a prefatory note explicitly warns against doing just that. “This novel,” he writes, “belongs entirely to the domain of literary fiction. The truth created by the novelist cannot be confounded, in any degree whatever, with the truth of the historian or the chronicler.” One can hardly imagine Solzhenitsyn prefacing one of his Lenin-novels with such a disclaimer. But perhaps one should take Serge at his word — noting that he set his novel in 1939. The arrests and trials inThe Case of Comrade Tulayevare fictional successors to, rather than a fictional synthesis of, the actual Moscow trials of 1936, 1937, and 1938.

Serge is not just pointing out that the truth of the novelist differs from the truth of the historian. He is asserting, here only implicitly, the superiority of the novelist's truth. Serge had made the bolder claim in the letter to Istrati aboutMen in Prison: a novel that, despite “the convenient use of the first person singular,” is “not about me,” and in which “I don't even want to stick too close to things I have actually seen.” The novelist, Serge continues, is after “a richer and more general truth than the truth of observation.” That truth “sometimes coincides almost photographically with certain things I have seen; sometimes it differs from them in every respect.”

To assert the superiority of the truth of fiction is a venerable literary commonplace (its earliest formulation is in Aristotle'sPoetics), and in the mouths of many writers sounds glib and even self-serving: a permission claimed by the novelist to be inaccurate, or partial, or arbitrary. To say that the assertion voiced by Serge has nothing of this quality is to point to the evidence of his novels, their incontestable sincerity and intelligence applied tolivedtruths re-created in the form of fiction.

The Case of Comrade Tulayevhas never enjoyed a fraction of the fame of Koestler'sDarkness at Noon(1940), a novel with ostensibly the same subject, which makes the opposite claim, for the correspondence of fiction to historical reality. “The life of the man N. S. Rubashov is a synthesis of the lives of a number of men who were victims of the so-called Moscow Trials,” the prefatory note toDarkness at Noonadvises the reader. (Rubashov is thought to be mostly based on Nikolai Bukharin, with something of Karl Radek.) But synthesis is exactly the limitation of Koestler's chamber drama, which is both political argument and psychological portrait. An entire era is seen through the prism of one person's ordeal of confinement and interrogation, interspersed with passages of recollection; flashbacks. The novel opens with Rubashov, ex-Commissar of the People, being pushed into his cell and the door slamming behind him, and ends with the executioner arriving with the handcuffs, the descent to the prison cellar, and the bullet in the back of the head. (It is not surprising thatDarkness at Nooncould be made into a Broadway play.) The revelation ofhow— that is, by what arguments rather than by physical torture — Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Bukharin, and the other ruling members of the Bolshevik elite could be induced to confess to the absurd charges of treason brought against them is the story ofDarkness at Noon.

Serge's polyphonic novel, with its many trajectories, has a much more complicated view of character, of the interweaving of politics and private life, and of the terrible procedures of Stalin's inquisition. And it casts a much wider intellectual net. (An example: Rublev's analysis of the revolutionary generation.) Of those arrested, all but one will eventually confess — Ryzhik, who remains defiant, prefers to go on a hunger strike and die — but only one resembles Koestler's Rubashov: Erchov, who is persuaded to render one last service to the Party by admitting that he was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Tulayev. “Every Man Has His Own Way of Drowning” is the title of one of the chapters.

The Case of Comrade Tulayevis a far less conventional novel than areDarkness at Noonand1984, whose portraits of totalitarianism have proved so unforgettable — perhaps because those novels have a single protagonist and tell a single story. One need not think of either Koestler's Rubashov or Orwell's Winston Smith as a hero; the fact that both novels stay with their protagonists from beginning to end forces the reader's identification with the archetypal victim of totalitarian tyranny. If Serge's novel can be said to have a hero, it is someone, present only in the first and last chapters, who is not a victim: Kostia, the actual assassin of Tulayev, who remains unsuspected.

Murder, killing is in the air. It is what history is about. A Colt revolver is bought from a shady purveyor — for no particular reason, except that it is a magical object, bluish-black steel, and feels potent concealed in the pocket. One day, its purchaser, the insignificant Romachkin, a miserable soul and also (in his own eyes) “a pure man whose one thought was justice,” is walking near the Kremlin wall at the moment when a uniformed figure, “his uniform bare of insignia, his face hard, bristlingly mustached, and inconceivably sensual,” emerges, followed by two men in civilian clothes, a mere thirty feet away, then stops six feet away to light a pipe, and Romachkin realizes he has been presented with an opportunity to shoot Stalin (“the Chief”) himself. He doesn't. Disgusted by his own cowardice, he gives the gun away to Kostia, who, out on a snowy night, observes a stout man in a fur-lined coat and astrakhan cap with a briefcase under his arm getting out of a powerful black car that has just pulled up in front of a private residence, hears him addressed by the chauffeur as Comrade Tulayev — Tulayev of the Central Committee, Kostia realizes, he of “the mass deportations” and “the university purges” — sees him sending the car away (in fact, Tulayev does not intend to enter his house but to continue on foot to a sexual assignation), at which moment, as if in a trance, a fit of absence, the gun comes out of Kostia's pocket. The gun explodes, a sudden clap of thunder in a dead silence. Tulayev falls to the sidewalk. Kostia flees through the narrow quiet streets.

Serge makes the murder of Tulayev nearly involuntary, like the murder of an unknown man at the beach for which the protagonist of Camus'sThe Stranger(1942) stands trial. (It seems very unlikely that Serge, marooned in Mexico, could have read Camus's novel, published clandestinely in Occupied France, before finishing his own.) The affectless antihero of Camus's novel is a kind of victim, first of all in his unawareness of his actions. In contrast, Kostia is full of feeling, and hisacte gratuitis both sincere and irrational: his awareness of the iniquity of the Soviet system actsthroughhim. However, the unlimited violence of the system makes his act of violence impossible to avow. When, towards the end of the novel, Kostia, tormented by how much further injustice has been unleashed by his deed, sends a written confession, unsigned, to the chief prosecutor on the Tulayev case, he, Fleischman — only a few steps from being arrested himself — burns the letter, collects the ashes and crushes them under his thumb, and “with as much relief as gloomy sarcasm” says half aloud to himself: “The Tulayev case is closed.” Truth, including a true confession, has no place in the kind of tyranny that the revolution has become.

To assassinate a tyrant is an accomplishment that may evoke Serge's anarchist past, and Trotsky was not entirely wrong when he accused Serge of being more anarchist than Marxist. But he had never supported anarchist violence: it was his libertarian convictions that had made Serge, early on, an anarchist. His life as a militant gave him a profound experience of death. That experience is most keenly expressed inConquered City, with its scenes of killing as compulsion, orgy, political necessity, but death presides over all Serge's novels.

“It is not for us to be admirable,” declares the voice of a woeful encomium to revolutionary hardheartedness, “Meditation during an Air-Raid,” inBirth of Our Power. We revolutionaries “must be precise, clear-sighted, strong, unyielding, armed: like machines.” (Of course, Serge is totally committed, by temperament and by principle, to what is admirable.) Serge's master theme is revolution and death: to make a revolution one must be pitiless, one must accept the inevitability of killing the innocent as well as the guilty. There is no limit to the sacrifices that the revolution can demand. Sacrifice of others; sacrifice of oneself. For that hubris, the sacrificing of so many others in revolution's cause, virtually guarantees that eventually the same pitiless violence will be turned on those who made the revolution. In Serge's fiction, the revolutionary is, in the strictest, classical sense, a tragic figure — a hero who will do, who is obliged to do,what is wrong; and in so doing courts, and will endure, retribution, punishment.

But in Serge's best fiction — these are much more than “political novels” — the tragedy of revolution is set in a larger frame. Serge is devoted to showing the illogic of history and of human motivation and the course of individual lives, which can never be said to be either deserved or undeserved. ThusThe Case of Comrade Tulayevends with the contrasting destinies of its two lesser lives: Romachkin, the man obsessed by justice, who lacked the courage, or the absence of mind, to kill Stalin, and has become a valued bureaucrat (so far not purged) in Stalin's terror state, and Kostia, Tulayev's assassin, the man who protested in spite of himself, and has escaped into humble agricultural work in Russia's far east, and mindlessness, and new love.


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The truth of the novelist — unlike the truth of the historian — allows for the arbitrary, the mysterious, the undermotivated. The truth of fiction replenishes: for there is much more than politics, and more than the vagaries of human feeling. The truth of fiction embodies, as in the pungent physicalness of Serge's descriptions of people and of landscapes. The truth of fiction depicts that for which one can never be consoled, and displaces it with a healing openness to everything finite and cosmic.

“I want to blow out the moon,” says the little girl at the end of Pilnyak's “The Tale of the Unextinguished Moon” (1926), which re-creates as fiction one of the first liquidations of a possible future rival ordered by Stalin (here called “Number One”): the murder, in 1925, of Trotsky's successor as the head of the Red Army, Mikhail Frunze, who was forced to undergo unnecessary surgery, and died, as planned, on the operating table. (Pilnyak's subsequent cave-in to Stalinist literary directives in the 1930s did not keep him from being shot in 1938.) In a world of unbearable cruelty and injustice, it seems as if all of nature should rhyme with grief and loss. And indeed, Pilnyak relates, the moon, as if in response to the challenge, vanishes. “The moon, plump as a merchant's wife, swam behind clouds, wearying of the chase.” But the moon is not to be extinguished. Neither is the saving indifference, the saving larger view, that is the novelist's or the poet's — which does not obviate the truth of political understanding, but tells us there is more than politics, more, even, than history. Bravery … and indifference … and sensuality … and the living creatural world … and pity, pity for all, remain unextinguished.

— SUSANSONTAG

THE CASE OFCOMRADE TULAYEV

This novel belongs entirely to the domain of literary fiction. The truth created by the novelist cannot be confounded, in any degree whatever, with the truth of the historian or the chronicler. Any attempt to establish a precise connection between characters or episodes in this book and known historical personages and events would therefore be without justification.

V.S.

1. Comets Are Born at Night

For several weeks Kostia had been thinking about buying a pair of shoes. But then a sudden impulse, which surprised even himself, upset all his calculations. By going without cigarettes, movies, and lunch every other day, he would need six weeks to save up the one hundred and forty rubles which was the price of a fairly good pair of shoes that the salesgirl in a secondhand store had kindly promised to set aside for him “on the q.t.” Meanwhile, he walked cheerfully on cardboard soles, which he replaced every evening. Fortunately the weather remained fair. When Kostia had accumulated seventy rubles he gave himself the pleasure of going to see the shoes that would one day be his. He found them half hidden on a dark shelf, behind several old copper samovars, a pile of opera-glass cases, a Chinese teapot, and a shell box with a sky-blue Bay of Naples. A magnificent pair of boots, of the softest leather, had the place of honor on the shelf — four hundred rubles, imagine! Men in threadbare overcoats licked their lips over them. “Don't worry,” the little salesgirl said to him. “Your boots are still here, don't worry …” She smiled at him, and again he noticed her brown hair, her deep-set eyes, her irregular but pretty teeth, her lips — but what was the right adjective for her lips? “Your lips are enchanted,” he thought and looked straight into her face, but never, never would he dare to say what he was thinking! For a moment her deep-set eyes held him, with their color between green and blue-just the color of those Chinese jades he had noticed under the glass top of the counter! Then his eyes wandered on over the jewels, the paper cutters, the watches, the snuffboxes, until, quite by chance, they fell on a little ebony-framed portrait of a woman, so small that he could have held it in his hand …

“How much is that?” Kostia asked in a startled voice.

“Sixty rubles — it's expensive, you know,” said the enchanted lips.

Hands that were no less enchanted dropped a piece of red-and-gold brocade, reached under the counter, brought out the miniature. Kostia took it. It was a shock to find his big, grimy fingers holding the little portrait. How alive it was! And how strange! It was the strangeness of it that he felt the most. The little black rectangle framed a blond head crowned with a tiara; alert yet sweet, penetrating yet mild, the eyes were an unfathomable mystery …

“I'll take it,” Kostia said, to his own surprise.

He had spoken so quietly, the voice had seemed to come from such depths of his being, that the salesgirl did not dare to protest. She looked furtively to right and left, then murmured:

“Don't say anything … I'll make out the slip for fifty rubles. Just don't let the cashier see what it is when you pay for it.”

Kostia thanked her. But he hardly saw her. “Fifty or seventy — what do I care, girl? The price has nothing to do with it — can't you see that?” A fire burned in him. As he walked homeward he felt the little ebony rectangle in his inside coat pocket cling gently to his breast; and from the contact there radiated a growing joy. He walked faster and faster, ran up a dark flight of stairs, hurried down the hall of the collective apartment — today it smelled rankly of naphthaline and cabbage soup — entered his room, switched on the light, looked ecstatically at his cot bed, the old illustrated magazines piled on the table, the window with the three broken panes replaced by cardboard — and felt embarrassed to hear himself murmur: “What luck!” Now the little black frame stood on the table, tilted against the wall, and the blond woman saw only him, as he saw only her. The room filled with an indefinable brightness. Kostia walked aimlessly from the window to the door — suddenly he felt imprisoned. On the other side of the partition Romachkin coughed softly.

“What a man!” Kostia thought, suddenly amused by the recollection of the bilious little fellow. He never went out, he was so neat and clean — a realpetit bourgeois, living there alone with his geraniums, his gray-paper-bound books, his portraits of great men: Ibsen, who said that the solitary man is the strongest man; Mechnikov, who enlarged the boundaries of life; Darwin, who proved that animals of the same species do not eat each other; Knut Hamsun, because he spoke for the hungry and loved the forest. Romachkin still wore old coats made in the days of the war that preceded the revolution that preceded the Civil War — in the days when the world swarmed with inoffensive and frightened Romachkins. Kostia gave a little smile as he turned toward his half-a-fireplace — because the partition which separated his room from Assistant Clerk Romachkin's room exactly divided the handsome marble fireplace of what had once been a drawing room.

Poor old Romachkin! you'll never have any more than half a room, half a fireplace, half a life — and not even half of a face like that …

(The face in the miniature, the intoxicating blue light of those eyes.)

“Your half of life is the dark half, poor old Romachkin.”

Two strides took Kostia into the hall and to his neighbor's door, on which he rapped the customary three little knocks. A stale odor of fried food, mingled with talk and quarreling voices, wafted from the other end of the apartment. An angry woman — who was certainly thin, embittered, and unhappy — was clattering pots and saying: “So he said, ‘Very well, citizen, I'll tell the manager.' And I said, ‘Very well, citizen, I'll' — ” A door opened, then instantly slammed shut, letting a burst of childish sobs escape. The telephone rang furiously. Romachkin came to the door. “Hello, Kostia.”

Romachkin's domain was nine feet long by eight feet wide, just like Kostia's. Paper flowers, carefully dusted, decorated the half-a-mantelpiece. His geraniums bordered the window sill with reddish purple. A cold glass of tea stood on the table, which was neatly covered with white paper. “I'm not interrupting, I hope? Were you reading?” The thirty books stood ranged on the double shelf over the bed.

“No, Kostia, I wasn't reading. I was thinking.”

The faded wall, the portraits of the four great men, the glass of tea, and Romachkin sitting there thinking with his coat buttoned. “What,” Kostia wondered, “does he do with his hands?” Romachkin never put his elbows on the table; when he spoke, his hands usually lay spread flat on his knees; he walked with his hands behind his back; he sometimes folded his arms over his chest, timidly raising his shoulders. His shoulders suggested the humble patience of a beast of burden.

“What were you thinking about, Romachkin?”

“Injustice.”

A vast subject, you certainly didn't exhaust it, my friend. Odd — it was chillier here than in his own room. “I came to borrow some books,” said Kostia. Romachkin's hair was neatly brushed, his face was sallow and aging, his lips were thin, his eyes fastened on you, yet they looked afraid. What color were they? They didn't seem to have any color. No more, indeed, did Romachkin — at first you thought gray, and then not even that. He studied his shelves for a moment, then took down an old paper-bound volume. “Read that, Kostia. It's the stories of brave men.” It was issue Number 9 ofPrison, “official organ of the Association of Former Convicts and Life-Exiles.” Thank you, good-by. Good-by, my friend. Would he go back to his thinking now, the poor creature?

Their two tables exactly faced each other on the two sides of the partition. Kostia sat down, opened the magazine, and tried to read. Now and again he looked up at the miniature, each time with the happy certainty that he would find the greenish-blue eyes fixed on his. Spring skies, pale above the snow, had that light when the river ice went out and the earth began to live again. Romachkin, in his private desert on the other side of the partition, had sat down again with his head in his hands — solitary, absorbed, convinced that he was thinking. Perhaps he really was thinking.

For a long time Romachkin had been living in solitary communion with a depressing thought. His job as assistant clerk in the wages department of the Moscow Clothing Trust would never be made permanent, since he was not a member of the Party. On the other hand, unless he should be arrested or die, he would never be replaced because, of all the 117 employees of the central office who, from nine to six, filled forty rooms under the Alcohol Trust and over the Karelian Furs Syndicate and next door to the Uzbekistan Cottons Agency, he alone knew every detail of the seventeen categories of wages and salaries, in addition to the seven types of remuneration for piecework, the possible combinations of basic wages with production bonuses, the art of reclassifications and paper raises which had no upsetting effect on the total salary budget. “Romachkin,” the order would come, “the director wants you to prepare the application of the new circular from the Plan Committee in conformity with the Central Committee's circular of January 6, of course taking into consideration the decision of the Conference of Textile Trusts — you know the one?” He knew. The head of his office, former capmaker and member of the Party since last spring, knew nothing — he couldn't even add. But he was said to be connected with the secret service (supervision of technical personnel and manual labor). He spoke with the voice of authority: “Understand, Romachkin? Have it ready by five o'clock tomorrow. I am going to the board meeting.” The office was in the third court of a brick building in St. Barnaby Alley; a few sickly trees, half killed by rubble from a demolished building, made a touching spot of green under his window.

Romachkin immersed himself in his calculations. And after a time it appeared that the 5 per cent increase in the basic wage published by the Central Committee, combined with the reclassifications whereby certain workers in Category 11 were transferred to Category 10, and certain workers in Category 10 to Category 9, thus improving the condition of the lowest wage groups (as not only justice but also the directive of the Council of Syndicates demanded), resulted in a 0.5 per cent reduction in the total wage budget if the regulations were applied with the utmost strictness. Now, the workmen in the two mills earned between 110 and 120 rubles, and the new rent increase became effective at the end of the month. Romachkin sadly turned his conclusions over to be typed. Every month he went through some similar operation (though the pretext for it was always new), brought his explanatory tables for the accounting office up to date, waited until quarter to five before he went to wash his hands, which he did slowly, humming “tra-la-la, tra-la-la” or “mmmm-mmmmm” like a melancholy bee … He dined hurriedly in the office restaurant, reading the leading article in the paper, which always announced, in the same tone of authority, that the country was progressing, was making rapid strides, that there had never been anything to compare with it, that despite all opposition history was being made for the glory of the Republic, the happiness of the working masses — witness the 210 factories opened during the year, the brilliant success in creating a grain reserve, and …

“But I,” Romachkin said to himself one day as he swallowed his last spoonful of cold semolina, “am squeezing the poor.”

The figures proved it. He lost his peace of mind. “The trouble is that I think … or rather, there is a being in me that thinks without my being aware of it, and then suddenly raises its voice in the silence of my brain and utters some short, acid, intolerable sentence. And after that, life can't be the same.” Romachkin was terrified by his twofold discovery — that he thought, and that the papers lied. He spent evenings at home, making complex calculations, comparing millions in goods rubles with millions in nominal rubles, tons of wheat with masses of human beings. He went to libraries and opened dictionaries and encyclopedias toObsession, Mania, Insanity, Mental Diseases, Paranoia, Schizophrenia, and concluded that he was neither paranoid nor cyclothymic nor schizophrenic nor neurotic, but at most suffering from a slight degree of hysteromaniacal depression. Symptoms: an obsession with figures, a propensity to find falsehood everywhere, and an idea which was almost an obsession, an idea which was so sacred that he feared to name it, an idea which solved all intellectual problems, which put all falsehood to flight, an idea which a man must keep perpetually in his consciousness or he would cease to be more than a miserable wretch, a sub-human paid to nibble at other men's bread, a cockroach snug in the brick building of the Trusts … Justice was in the Gospels, but the Gospels were feudal and pre-feudal superstition; surely Justice was in Marx, though Romachkin could not find it there; it was in the Revolution, it watched in Lenin's tomb, it illuminated the embalmed brow of a pink and pallid Lenin who lay under crystal, guarded by motionless sentries; in reality they were guarding eternal Justice.


Page 6

The doctor whom Romachkin consulted at the neuropsychiatric clinic at Khamovniki said: “Reflexes excellent, nothing to worry about, citizen. Sex life?” “Not much, only occasionally,” Romachkin answered, blushing. “I recommend intercourse twice a month,” said the doctor dryly. “As to the idea of justice, don't let it worry you. It is a positive social idea resulting from the sublimation of the primitive ego and the suppression of individualistic instincts; it is called upon to play a great role in the period of transition to Socialism … Macha, call in the next patient. Your number, citizen?” The next patient was already in the room, his number in his fingers — fingers of paper, shaken by an inner storm. A being disfigured by an animal laugh. The man in the white blouse, the doctor, disappeared behind his screen. What did he look like? Romachkin had forgotten his face already. Satisfied with his consultation, Romachkin was in a mood to joke: “The patient is yourself, Citizen Doctor. Primitive sublimation — what nonsense! You have never had the least notion of justice, citizen.”

He emerged from the crisis strengthened and illuminated. As a result of the doctor's advice on sexual hygiene he found himself, one cloudy evening, on a bench on the Boulevard Trubnoy, haunt of painted girls who ask you, in soft, alcoholic voices, for a cigarette … Romachkin did not smoke. “I am very sorry, mam'selle,” he said, trying to sound lewd. The prostitute took a cigarette from her pocket, lit it slowly to display her painted nails and her charming profile — then crushed her body against his: “Looking for something?” He nodded. “Come over on the other bench, it's farther from the light. You'll see what I can do … Three rubles, right?” Romachkin was overwhelmed by the thought of poverty and injustice; yet what connection was there between such thoughts and this prostitute, and himself, and sexual hygiene? He said nothing. Yet he was half aware of a connection, as tenuous as the silvery rays that on clear nights link star to star. “For five rubles, I'll take you home,” said the girl. “You pay in advance, darling — that's the rule.” He was glad that there was a rule for this sort of transaction. The girl led him through the moonlight to a hovel almost indistinguishable in the shadow of an eight-story office building. Discreet knocking on a windowpane brought out a poverty-stricken woman clutching a shawl over her sunken chest. “It's comfortable inside,” she said, “there's a little fire. Don't hurry, Katiuchenka, I'll be all right here smoking a butt while I wait. Don't wake the baby — she's asleep on the far side of the bed.” In order not to wake the baby, they lay down on the floor on a quilt which they took from the bed, in which a little dark-haired girl lay sleeping with her mouth open. A single candle gave the only light. Everything, from the dirty ceiling to the cluttered corners, was sordid. The iniquity of it went through Romachkin like a cold that freezes to the bone. He too was iniquitous, an iniquitous brute. In his person, iniquity itself writhed on the body of a miserable, anemic girl. Iniquity filled the huge silence into which he plunged with bestial fury. At that instant, another idea was born in him. Feeble, faraway, hesitant, not wanting to live, it yet was born. Thus from volcanic soil rises a tiny flame, which, small though it be, yet reveals that the earth will quake and crack and burst with flowing lava.

Afterwards, they walked back to the boulevard together. She chattered contentedly: “Still got to find one more tonight. It's not easy. Yesterday I hung around till dawn, and then didn't get anyone but a drunk who didn't have quite three rubles left. What do you think of that? Cholera! People are too hungry, men don't think about making love these days.” Romachkin politely agreed, preoccupied with watching the struggles of the new little flame: “Of course. Sexual needs are influenced by diet …” Thus encouraged, the girl talked of what was happening in the country. “I just got back from my village, oh cholera!” Cholera must be her favorite word, he thought. She said it charmingly, now blowing out a straight stream of cigarette smoke, now spitting sidewise. “The horses are all gone, cholera! What will people do now? First they took the best horses for the collective, then the township cooperative refused to furnish fodder for the ones the peasants had been left or had refused to give up. Anyway, there wasn't any more fodder because the army requisitioned the last of it. The old people, who remembered the last famine, fed them roof thatch — imagine what fodder that makes for the poor beasts after it's been out under rain and sun for years! Cholera! It made you weep to see them, with their sad eyes and their tongues hanging out and their ribs sticking through their sides — I swear they really came through the hide! — and their swollen joints and little boils all over their bellies and their backs full of pus and blood and worms eating right into the raw flesh — the poor creatures were rotting alive — we had to put bands under their bellies to hold them up at night or they'd never have been able to get back on their legs in the morning. We let them wander around the yards and they licked the fence palings and chewed the ground to find a scrap of grass. Where I come from, horses are more precious than children. There are always too many children to feed, they come when nobody wants them — do you think there was any need formeto come into the world? But there are never enough horses to do the farm work with. With a horse, your children can grow up; without a horse a man is not a man any more, is he? No more home — nothing but hunger, nothing but death…. Well, the horses were done for — there was no way out. The elders met. I was in the corner by the stove. There was a little lamp on the table, and I had to keep trimming the wick — it smoked. What was to be done to save the horses? The elders couldn't even speak, they were so sunk. Finally my father — he looked terrible, his mouth was all black — said: ‘There's nothing to be done. We'll have to kill them. Then they won't suffer any more. There's always the leather. As for us, we will die or not, as God pleases.' Nobody said anything after that, it was so quiet that I could hear the roaches crawling under the stove bricks. My old man got up slowly. ‘I'll do it,' says he. He took the ax from under the bench. My mother threw herself on him: ‘Nikon Nikonich, pity …' He looked as if he needed pity himself, with his face all screwed up like a murderer. ‘Silence, woman,' says he. ‘You, girl, come and hold a light for us.' I brought the lamp. The stable was against the house; when the mare moved at night we heard her. It was comforting. She saw us come in with the light, and she looked at us sadly, like a sick man, there were tears in her eyes. She hardly turned her head because her strength was nearly gone. Father kept the ax hidden, because the mare would surely have known. Father went up to her and patted her cheeks. ‘You're a good mare, Brownie. It's not my fault if you have suffered. May God forgive me — — ' Before the words were out of his mouth Brownie's skull was split open. ‘Clean the ax,' Father said to me. ‘Now we have nothing.' How I cried that night! — outside, because they would have beaten me if I'd cried in the house. I think everybody in the village hid somewhere and cried …” Romachkin gave her an extra fifty kopecks. Then she wanted to kiss him on the mouth — “You'll see how, darling” — but he said “No, thank you,” humbly, and walked away among the dark trees, his shoulders sagging.

All the nights of his life were alike, equally empty. After leaving the office, he wandered from co-operative to co-operative with a crowd of idlers like himself. The shelves in the shops were full of boxes, but, to avoid any misunderstanding, the clerks had put labels on them:Empty Boxes. Nevertheless, graphs showed the rising curve of weekly sales. Romachkin bought some pickled mushrooms and reserved a place in a line that was forming for sausage. From a comparatively well-lighted street he turned into another that was dark, and walked up it. Electric signs, themselves invisible, filled the end of it with an orange glory. Suddenly heated voices filled the darkness. Romachkin stopped. A brutal masculine voice was lost in uproar, a woman's voice rose, rapid and vehement, heaping insults on the traitors, saboteurs, beasts in human guise, foreign agents, vermin. The insults spewed into the darkness from a forgotten loud-speaker in an empty office. It was frightful — that voice without a face, in the darkness of the office, in the solitude, under the unmoving orange light at the end of the street. Romachkin felt terribly cold. The woman's voice clamored: “In the name of the four thousand women workers …” Romachkin's brain passively echoed:In the name of the four thousand women workers in this factory… And four thousand women of all ages — seductive women, women prematurely old (why?), pretty women, women whom he would never know, women of whom he dared not dream — were present in him for an incalculable instant, and they all cried: “We demand the death penalty for these vile dogs! No pity!” (“Can you mean it, women?” Romachkin answered severely. “No pity? All of us need pity so much, you and I and all of us …”) “To the firing squad with them!” Factory meetings continued during the trial of the engineers — or was it the economists, or the food control board, or the Old Bolsheviks, who were being tried this time? Romachkin walked on. Twenty steps farther he stopped again, this time in front of a lighted window. Between the curtains he saw a table set for supper — tea, plates, hands, only hands on the checked linoleum: a fat hand holding a fork, a gray slumbering hand, a child's hand … A loud-speaker in the room showered the hands with the cry of the meetings: “Shoot them, shoot them, shoot them!” Who? It didn't matter. Why?

Because terror and suffering were everywhere mingled with an inexplicable triumph tirelessly proclaimed by the newspapers. “Good evening, Comrade Romachkin. Have you heard? Marfa and her husband have been refused passports because they were disenfranchised as artisans formerly working on their own account. Have you heard? Old Bukin has been arrested, they say he had hidden dollars sent him by his brother, who is a dentist in Riga … And the engineer has lost his job, he's suspected of sabotage. Have you heard? There is going to be a fresh purge of employees, get ready for it, I heard at the house committee meeting that your father was an officer …” — “It's not true,” said Romachkin, choking, “he was only a sergeant during the imperialist war, he was an accountant …” (But since that right-thinking accountant had belonged to the Russian People's Union, Romachkin's conscience was not entirely at ease.) — “Try to produce witnesses, they say the commissions are severe … They say there is trouble in the Smolensk region — no more wheat …” — “I know, I know … Come and play checkers, Piotr Petrovich …” They went to Romachkin's room, and his neighbor began telling his own troubles in a low voice: his wife's first husband had been a shopkeeper, so it was more than likely that her passport for Moscow would not be renewed. “They give you three days to get out, Comrade Romachkin, and you have to go somewhere at least two hundred miles away — but will they give you a passport there?” If it turned out that way, their daughter obviously couldn't enter the Forestry School. Gilded by the lamplight, the ax came down on the head of a horse with human eyes, voices lashed through fiery darkness demanding victims, stations were filled with crowds waiting almost hopelessly for trains which crawled over the map toward the last wheat, the last meat, the last combines; a prostitute from the Boulevard Trubnoy lay gaping wide open on a pallet beside a sleeping child pink as a sucking pig, pure as the innocents Herod slaughtered, and a prostitute cost money, five rubles, a day's pay — yes, he must find witnesses to face the new purge with, was the new rent scale going into effect? If in all this there was not some immense wrong, some boundless guilt, some hidden villainy, it must be that a sort of madness filled everyone's brain. The game of checkers was over. Piotr Petrovich went home, thinking of his troubles: “Most serious, the matter of the interior passport …” Romachkin turned down his bed, undressed, rinsed out his mouth, and lay down. The electric light burned on his bed table, the sheet was white, the portraits mute — ten o'clock. Before he went to sleep, he read the paper carefully. The face of the Chief filled a third of the front page, as it did two or three times a week, surrounded by a seven-column speech:Our economic successes… Prodigious, they were. We are the chosen people, the most fortunate of peoples, envied by a West destined to crises, unemployment, class struggle, war; our welfare increases daily, wages, as the result of Socialist emulation by our shock brigades, show a rise of 12 per cent over the past year; it is time to stabilize them, since production has shown an increase of only 11 per cent. Woe to the skeptics, to those of little faith, to those who nourish the venomous serpent of Opposition in their secret hearts! — It was set forth in angular periods, numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; numbered too were the five conditions (all now fulfilled) for the realization of Socialism; numbered too the six commandments of Labor; numbered too the four grounds for historic certainty … Romachkin could not believe his senses, he turned a sharp eye on the 12 per cent increase in wages. This increase in nominal wages was accompanied by a reduction at least three times as great in real wages, as a result of the depreciation of paper money and the rise in prices…. But in this connection the Chief, in his peroration, made a mocking allusion to the dishonest specialists of the Commissariat of Finance, who would receive exemplary punishment. “Continued applause. The audience rise and acclaim the orator for minutes. Salvos of shouts: ‘Long live our unconquerable Chief! Long live our great Pilot! Long live the Political Bureau! Long live the Party!' The ovation is resumed. Numerous voices: ‘Long live the Secret Police!' Thunderous applause.”

Feeling unfathomably sad, Romachkin thought: How he lies! — and was terrified at his own audacity. No one, fortunately, could hear him think; his room was empty; somebody came out of the toilet, walked down the hall dragging his slippers — no doubt it was old Schlem, who had stomach trouble; a sewing machine purred softly; before getting into bed, the couple across the hall were quarreling in little sentences that hissed like lashes. He felt the man pinching the woman, slowly twisting her hair, making her kneel down, then hitting her across the face with the back of his hand; the whole hall knew it, the couple had been reported, but they denied it and were reduced to torturing each other without making any noise, as, afterward, they cohabited without making any noise, moving like wary animals. And the people listening at the door heard almost nothing, but sensed everything. — Twenty-two people lived in the six rooms and the windowless nook at the back: twenty-two people, all clearly recognizable by the most furtive sounds they made in the stillness of night. Romachkin turned out the light. The feeble glow of a street light came through the curtain, tracing the usual pictures on the ceiling. They varied monotonously from day to day. In the half-light, the Chief's massive profile was superimposed on the figure of the man who was silently beating his wife in the room across the hall. Would she ever escape from her bondage? Shall we ever escape from falsehood? The responsibility was his who lied in the face of an entire people. The terrible thought which, until now, had matured in the dark regions of a consciousness that feared itself, that pretended to ignore itself, that struggled to disguise itself before the mirror within, now stripped off its mask. So, at night, lightning reveals a landscape of twisted trees above a chasm. Romachkin felt an almost visual revelation. He saw the criminal. A translucent flame flooded his soul. It did not occur to him that his new knowledge might avail him nothing. Henceforth it would possess him, would direct his thoughts, his eyes, his steps, his hands. He fell asleep with his eyes wide open, suspended between ecstasy and fear.


Page 7

Romachkin took to haunting the Great Market — sometimes before the office opened in the morning, sometimes late in the afternoon after his work was done. There, from dawn to dark, several thousand human beings formed a stagnant crowd which might almost have appeared motionless, so patient and wary were their comings and goings. Patches of color, human faces, objects, were all overwhelmed by the uniform gray of the trodden muddy ground which never dried out; misery marked every creature there with its crushing imprint. It was in the suspicious eyes of market women swathed in shapeless wool or prints, in the earthy faces of soldiers who could no longer really be soldiers, though they still wore vague uniforms that had been in battle only to flee; it was in the frayed cloth of overcoats, in hands that held out unexpected wares: a Samoyed reindeer glove fringed with red and green and lined inside — “Soft as down, citizen, just feel it” — a solitary glove, as it was the solitary merchandise the little Kalmuck thief had to offer today. Difficult to tell sellers from buyers, as they stood shifting their feet or prowled slowly around one another. “A watch, a watch, a good Cyma watch — buy it?” The watch ran only seven minutes — “What a movement, listen, citizen!” — just long enough for the seller to pocket your fifty rubles and vanish. A sweater, worn at the collar and patched in the body, ten rubles — done! A man dead of typhoid had soaked it with his sweat? — Certainly not, citizen, that's only the smell of the trunk it was in. “Tea, real caravan tea,t'ai, t'ai.” The slant-eyed Chinaman chants the magic syllables over and over, looking at you hard, then passes on; if you answer him with a wink he half pulls out of his sleeve a tiny, square painted packet in which Kutzetsov tea used to come in the old days. “It's the real thing. From the Gepeou co-op.” Is he sneering, the Chinese, or is it the shape of his mouth, with those greenish teeth, that makes him look as if he were sneering? Why does he mention the Gepeou? Can he belong to it? Strange that he's not arrested, that he's there every day — but they are all there every day, the three thousand speculators, male and female, between the ages of ten and eighty — no doubt because it's impossible to arrest them all at once, and because, no matter how many raids the police make, the creatures are legion. Among them too, their caps pulled down to their eyes, stalk the police detectives in search of their prey: murderers, escaped convicts, crooks, renegade counter-revolutionaries. This swarming mass of human beings has an imperceptible structure, like an ancient bog. (Watch your pockets and shake yourself well when you leave, you will certainly have picked up some lice; and beware of those lice, they come from the country, from prisons, from trains, from the huts of Eurasia — they carry typhus; you can pick them up from the ground, you know; people that have them sow them as they walk, and the filthy little insect, who's looking for a living too, climbs up your legs till it gets to the warm place — they know what they're doing, the little beasts! What — you really believe that the day will come when men won't have lice? True Socialism — eh? — with butter and sugar for everybody? Maybe, to increase human happiness, there'll be soft, perfumed lice that caress you?) Romachkin vaguely listened to the tall bearded man who was discussing lice with evident enjoyment. He followed “Butter Alley,” where of course there was no alley and no butter to be seen, but simply two lines of standing women, some of them holding lumps of butter wrapped in cloths; others, who had not paid the inspector for their places, kept their butter hidden in their bodices, between waist and breasts. (Now and again one of them was arrested: “Aren't you ashamed of yourself, speculator!”) Farther on was the section of illegally slaughtered cattle, meat brought in the bottoms of sacks, under vegetables, under grain, under anything, and which the sellers scarcely showed. “Good fresh meat — buy it?” From under her cloak the woman produced a shin of beef wrapped in a blood-stained newspaper. How much? Just feel it! A sinister fellow with an epileptic tic held a peculiar piece of black meat in his crooked sorcerer's claws, saying not a word. You can even eat that, it's cheap, all you have to do is cook it well, and the only way to cook it, of course, is in a tin dish over a fire in some empty lot! Do you like stories about women who have been dismembered, citizen? I know some interesting ones. A small boy went by, carrying a kettle and glasses, selling boiled water at ten kopecks a glass. Here began the legally constituted market, with its wares duly displayed on the ground. But what wares! An incredible juxtaposition of dark glasses, oil lamps, chipped teapots, old snapshots, books, dolls, scrap iron, dumbbells, nails (the big ones were sold by the piece, the small ones, which you examined one by one to make sure the points weren't broken, by the dozen), china, bibelots from the old days, shells, spittoons, teething rings, dancing slippers still vaguely gilt, a top hat which had belonged to a circus rider or a dandy under the old regime, things impossible to classify, but whichcouldbe sold because theyweresold, because people lived by selling them — flotsam from innumerable wrecks battered by the waves of more than one flood. Not far from the Armenian theater, Romachkin at last found himself interested in someone, in something. The Armenian theater was composed of a number of large boxes covered with black cloth and pierced with a dozen oval holes, into which the spectators put their faces — thus their bodies remained outside while their heads were in wonderland. “Still three places free, comrades, only fifty kopecks, the show is about to begin — The Mysteries of Samarkand in ten scenes with thirty actors in real colors.” Having found his three clients, the Armenian disappeared behind the curtain to pull the strings of his mysterious marionettes and make them all talk himself, in thirty different voices — houris with long eyes, wicked old women, servants, children, fat Turkish merchants, a gypsy fortuneteller, a thin devil with a beard and horns — imitating the fire-eating assassin, the amorous tenor, the brave Red soldier … Not far away a squatting Tatar watched over his merchandise: felt hats, carpets, a saddle, daggers, a yellow quilt covered with strange stains, a very old fowling piece. “A good gun,” he said soberly as Romachkin bent over it. “Three hundred.” Thus they became acquainted. The fowling piece was useless, except to attract the dangerous client. “I have another one at home that's brand new,” the Tatar — Akhim — finally said at their fourth meeting, after they had drunk tea together. “Come and see it.”

Akhim lived at the end of a courtyard surrounded by white birches, in the district of quiet, clean little alleys around Kropotkin Street (they had to go through Death Street to reach it). There, in a cavern darkened by the hides and felts that hung from the ceiling, Akhim displayed a magnificent Winchester with two shining blue barrels — “twelve hundred rubles, my friend.” That was Romachkin's salary for six months, and the gun was not at all the weapon for what he had in mind — only two shots, clumsy to transport. Well, by sawing off part of the barrel and two thirds of the stock, it could be carried under an ordinary suit. Romachkin hesitated, weighing the pros and cons. By going into debt, by selling everything he owned which was salable, and even stealing a few things from the office besides, he could not get together six hundred … A series of dull explosions shook the walls and rattled the windowpanes. “What's that?” — “Nothing, my friend, they're dynamiting St. Saviour's Cathedral.” They dropped the subject. “No, really,” Romachkin said, “I can't, it's too expensive. Besides …” He had said that he was a hunter, a member of the official hunter's association, and consequently had a permit … Akhim's face changed, Akhim's voice changed, he went for the singing tea-kettle, poured tea into their glasses, sat down opposite Romachkin on a low stool, and drank the amber beverage with relish; doubtless he was getting ready to say something important, perhaps his final price, nine hundred? Romachkin could no more get together nine hundred than twelve hundred. It was devastating. After a long silence he heard Akhim's caressing voice mingling with the distant boom of an explosion:

“If it is to kill somebody, I have something better …”

“Better?” Romachkin asked, gasping for breath …

On the table, between their glasses, lay a Colt revolver with a short barrel and a black cylinder — a forbidden weapon, the mere presence of which was a crime — a fine clean Colt, calling the hand, fortifying the will.

“Four hundred, my friend.”

“Three hundred,” said Romachkin unconsciously, already filled with the Colt's spell.

“Three hundred — take it, my friend,” said Akhim, “because my heart trusts you.”

It was only as he went out that Romachkin noticed how strangely neglected and disorderly Akhim's quarters looked. It was not a place where anyone lived, it was a place where someone was waiting to vanish, in a confusion like a station platform during the rout of an army. Under the white birches, Akhim smiled at him mildly. Romachkin set out through the peaceful little streets. The heavy Colt lay against his chest, in the inside pocket of his coat. From what robbery, what murder on the distant steppe, did it come? Now it lay against the heart of a pure man whose one thought was justice.

He stopped for a moment at the entrance to a huge construction yard. There was a wide view under the liquid blue of the moon. In the distance, through scaffolding and the rubble of demolished buildings, he could see the waters of the Moskva, as through the crenelations of a ruined fortress. To the right was the scaffolding of an uncompleted skyscraper; to the left rose the citadel of the Kremlin, with the heavy flat façade of the Great Palace, the tall tower of Czar Ivan, the pointed turrets of the enclosing wall, the bulbous domes of the cathedrals rising against the starry sky. Here searchlights reigned, men ran through a zone of harsh white light, a sentry ordered back a crowd of gapers. The wounded mass of the Cathedral of St. Saviour occupied the foreground; the great gilded cupola that had crowned it was gone like an ancient dream, the building rested heavily on the beginning of its own ruins; a dark crack a hundred feet long split it from top to bottom, like a dead lightning bolt in the masonry. “There it goes!” someone said. A woman's voice murmured, “My God!” Thunder burrowed through the ground, shook the ground, made the whole moonlit landscape rock fantastically, set the river sparkling, set people shuddering. Smoke rose slowly, the thunder rolled over the ground and vanished in a silence like the end of the world; a deep sigh rose from the mass of stone, and it began to sink in upon itself with a snapping of bones, a cracking of beams, a desolate look of suffering. “That's done it!” cried a little bareheaded engineer to several dust-covered workmen who, like himself, had emerged from the cloud. Romachkin, having read it in the papers, thought that life progressed through destruction, that things must perpetually be torn down so that things could be built, that the old stones must be killed so that new buildings, better ventilated and worthier of man, might rise; that on this spot would one day stand the beautiful Palace of the Peoples of the Union — in which perhaps iniquity would no longer reign. A slight unacknowledged grief mingled with these grandiose ideas as he resumed his walk toward the place where he could catch Streetcar A.

He put the Colt on the table. Bluish-black, it filled the room with its presence. Eleven o'clock. He bent over it in thought for a moment before he went to bed. On the other side of the partition Kostia moved; he was reading, from time to time he looked up at the radiant miniature. The two men felt each other's nearness. Kostia drummed gently against the partition with his fingertips. Romachkin answered in the same fashion: Yes, come! Should he hide the Colt before Kostia came in? His hesitation lasted only a hundredth part of a second. The first thing Kostia saw as he entered was the magical blue-black steel on the white paper tablecloth. Kostia picked up the Colt and bounced it happily up and down in his hand. “Magnificent!” He had never held a revolver before, he felt childishly happy. He was rather tall, with a high forehead, unruly hair, and sea-green eyes. “How well you hold it!” said Romachkin admiringly. And in fact the Colt increased Kostia's stature, giving him the look of a proud young warrior. “I bought it,” Romachkin explained, “because I like firearms. I used to hunt, but a shotgun is too expensive … A double-barreled Winchester costs twelve hundred — think of it!” Kostia only half listened to the embarrassed explanation: that his timid neighbor should own a revolver amused him, and he made no attempt to hide his amusement — his whole face lit up with a smile … “You will certainly never use it, Romachkin,” he said. Romachkin answered warily: “I don't know … Of course I have no use for it. What should I use it for? I have no enemies … But a firearm is a beautiful thing. It makes you think …”

“Of assassins?”

“No. Of just men.”

Kostia suppressed a guffaw. A fine heroyou'dmake, my poor friend! — A good sort, though. The little man was looking at him quite seriously. Kostia feared that he would hurt him if he joked. They chatted a few minutes just as usual. “Have you read Issue 12 ofPrison?” Romachkin asked before they separated. — “No — is it interesting?” — “Very. It has the story of the attempt on Admiral Dubassov in 1906 …” Kostia took Issue 12 with him.

But Romachkin himself did not want to reread any accounts of those red-letter days of the Revolution. They were too discouraging. Those historic assassinations had required meticulous preparation, disciplined organization, money, months of work, of watching, of waiting, courage linked with courage; besides, they had often failed. If he had really thought about it, his plan would have appeared completely visionary. But he did not think — thoughts formed and dissolved in him without control, almost like a reverie. And since he had got through life in that fashion, he did not know that it is possible to think better, more accurately, more clearly, but that such thinking is a strange labor which one performs almost in spite of oneself and which often results in a bitter pleasure, beyond which there is nothing. Whenever he could — whether in the morning, afternoon, or evening — Romachkin explored a certain locality in the center of the city: Staraia Place, an old square on which stands a sort of bank building in gray freestone; at the entrance there is a black glass plate with gold lettering:Communist Party (Bolshevik) of the U.S.S.R., Central Committee. A guard silhouetted in the hall. Elevators. Across the narrow square, the old white crenelated wall of Kitai-Gorod, the “Chinese City.” Cars drew up. There was always someone smoking thoughtfully at the corner … No, not here. Impossible here. Romachkin could not have said why. Because of the white crenelated wall, the severe gray freestone blocks, the emptiness? The ground was too hard, it bewildered his feet, he felt that he had neither weight nor substance. In the vicinity of the Kremlin, on the other hand, the breezes that swept through the gardens carried him across Red Square in all his insignificance, and when he stopped for a moment before Lenin's tomb, he was as anonymous as the gaping provincials who stopped with him; the faded, twisted domes of St. Vasili the Blessed dwarfed him even more. It was not until he had mounted the three steps of the Place of Execution that he felt himself again. It had been there for centuries, surrounded by a small circular stone balcony. How many men had died there? Of them all, nothing survived in the souls of the passers-by — except in his. Just as simply would he have laid himself on the wheel that should break his limbs. The mere thought of the atrocious torture set his skin shivering. But what else was there to do when one had come thus far? From that day on, he carried the Colt whenever he went out.


Page 8

Romachkin liked the public gardens that border the outer wall of the Kremlin on the side toward the city. He gave himself the pleasure of walking there almost every day. It was there that the thing hit him between the eyes. He was walking in the gardens eating a sandwich (it was between 1:15 and 1:50), instead of chatting with his colleagues in the Trust restaurant. As usual, the central walk was almost deserted; the streetcars, making the turn outside the fence, rattled and clanged their bells. Where the walk curves in the direction of the rusty foliage that borders the high wall of the Kremlin, a man in uniform appeared. Two men in civilian clothes followed him, smoking. Tall, almost gaunt, the visor of his military cap pulled down over his eyes, his uniform bare of insignia, his face hard, bristlingly mustached, and inconceivably sensual, the man stepped out of the portraits published in the papers, displayed four stories high on buildings, hung in offices, impressed, day after day, on the minds of the nation. There was no possible doubt: it wasHe. The air of authority, the hands — the right in the pocket, the other swinging … As if in final proof of his identity, the Chief drew a short pipe from his pocket, put it between his teeth, and walked on. Now he was only thirty feet from Romachkin. Romachkin's hand flew into his coat pocket, groping for the butt of the Colt. At that moment the Chief, still walking, drew out his tobacco pouch; less than six feet from Romachkin he stopped, daring him; his cat eyes shot a little cruel gleam in Romachkin's direction. His mocking lips muttered something like, “You abject worm Romachkin,” with devastating scorn. And he passed by. Demolished, Romachkin stumbled over a stone, tottered, almost fell. Two men, sprung from nowhere, caught him in time. “Do you feel ill, citizen?” They must be members of the Chief's secret-police escort. “Let me alone!” Romachkin shouted at them, beside himself with rage — but actually he barely breathed the words, or other words, in a despairing whisper. The two men, who were holding him by the elbows, let him go. “Don't drink when you don't know how, idiot,” muttered one. “Damned vegetarian!” Romachkin sank onto a bench beside a young couple. A voice of thunder — his own — rang in his head: “Coward, coward, coward, coward …” The couple, paying no attention to him, went on quarreling.

“If you see her again,” the woman said, “I …” (the next words were inaudible) “I've had enough. I've suffered too much, I …” (more inaudible words). “I beg you …”

An anemic creature, hardly more than a girl — lifeless blond hair, a face covered with pink pimples. The fellow answered:

“You make me tired, Maria. Stop it. You make me tired.” And he stared into the distance.

It was all relentlessly logical. Romachkin rose as if pushed up by a spring, looked at the couple implacably, and said:

“We are all cowards — do you hear me?”

It was so obvious, that the tension of his despair snapped; he was able to get up, to walk as he had walked before, to reach the office without being a minute late, go back to his graphs, drink his glass of tea at four o'clock, answer questions, finish his day's work, go home … Now, what should he do with the Colt? He could not bear to have the useless weapon in his room any longer.

It was lying on the table, the blue-black steel gleaming with a coldness that was an insult, when Kostia came in and seemed to smile at him. Romachkin was sure he saw him smile. “Do you like it, Kostia?” he asked. Around them spread the peace of evening. Kostia, with the revolver in his hand and smiling at him quite openly, became a young warrior again. “It's a beautiful thing,” he said.

“I have no use for it,” said Romachkin, torn with regret. “You can have it.”

“But it's worth a lot,” the young man objected.

“Not to me. And you know I can't sell it. Take it, Kostia.” Romachkin was afraid to insist, because suddenly he so much wanted Kostia to take it. “Really?” Kostia spoke again. And Romachkin answered: “Yes, really. Take it.” Kostia carried away the Colt, put it on his own table, under the miniature, smiled once more at the faithful eyes that looked out of the frame, then at the clean weapon — mortally clean and proud it was! He did a few gymnastics for very joy. Romachkin enviously heard his joints crack.

Almost every evening they talked for a few minutes before they went to bed — the one ponderously insidious, returning to the same ideas over and over, again and again, like a plow ox making one furrow, then beginning again, to plow one beside it, again and yet again; the other mocking, attracted despite himself, sometimes leaping out of the invisible circle that had been drawn around him, only to find himself unwittingly back in it again. “What do you think, Romachkin?” he asked at last. “Who is guilty, guilty of it all?”

“Obviously it is whoever has the most power. If there were a God, it would be God,” Romachkin said softly. “That would be very convenient,” he added, with a little devious laugh.

Kostia felt that he had understood too many things at once. It made his head spin. “You don't know what you are saying, Romachkin. And it's a good thing for you that you don't! Good night.”

From nine in the morning to six in the evening, Kostia worked in the office of a subway construction yard. The rhythmic and raucous throb of the excavating machine was communicated to the planking of the shanty. Trucks carried away the excavated earth. The first layers appeared to be composed of human debris, as humus is composed of vegetable debris; they had an odor of corpses, of the decaying city, of refuse long fermented under alternate snow and hot pavements. The truck engines, fed on an inconceivable gasoline, filled the yard with staccato explosions so violent that they drowned out the swearing of the drivers. A thin board fence separated Yard No. 22 from the bustling, klaxoning street, with its two surging streams flowing in opposite directions, its hysterically ringing streetcars, brand new police vans, ramshackle hackney carriages, swarming pedestrians. The shanty, the center of which was occupied by a stove, housed the timekeeping department, the accounting department, the technicians' office, the desk reserved for the Party and the Young Communists, with its file cases, the corner allocated to the Secretary of the Syndical Cell, the office of the yard chief — but the latter was never there, he ran from one end of Moscow to the other looking for materials, with the Control Commissions running after him. So his space could be used. The Party secretary took it as of right: from morning to night he received the complaints of mud-covered workers, male and female, who descended into the earth, then came up out of the earth — one because he had no lamp, the second because he had no boots, the third no gloves; the fourth had been hurt; the fifth, fired for arriving drunk and late, furious because he was not allowed to go now that he had been fired: “I demand that the law be obeyed, Comrade Part.-Org. (Party Organizer). I came late, I was drunk, I made a row. Throw me out — it's the law!” The Part.-Org. burst out, turning crimson: “In the name of God and all the stinking saints, you rub your dirty nose in the law because you want to quit, eh? Think you'll get yourself some more work clothes somewhere else, eh? Damned dirty …” — “The law's the law, Comrade.” Kostia checked the timecards for absences, went down into the tunnel with messages, helped the organizer of the Young Communists in his various educational, disciplinary, and secret-service duties. A short, dark, bobbed-haired, energetic eighteen-year-old girl with rouged lips and small acid eyes passed. He waved to her. “So your little pal Maria hasn't showed up for two days? I'll have to take it up with the Y.C. office.”

The girl stopped short and pulled up her skirt with a masculine gesture. A miner's lamp hung from her leather apron. With her hair hidden under a thick kerchief, she looked as if she were wearing a helmet. She spoke passionately, slowly, in a low voice:

“You won't see Maria again. Dead. Threw herself in the Moskva yesterday. She's in the morgue this minute. Go take a look at her if you feel like it. You made her do it — you and the Bureau. And I'm not afraid to tell you so.”

The edge of her shovel gleamed evilly over her shoulder. She pushed her way into the gaping elevator. Kostia telephoned to the department, the police, the Y.C. secretary (private wire), the secretary of the yard newspaper, and even others. Everywhere the same news echoed back to him — numbing, and now banally irreparable. At the morgue, on the marble slabs, in a lugubrious gray chill riddled with electric bulbs, lay a nameless boy who had been run over by a street-car. He lay sleeping on his back, his skin white as wax, his two hands open as if they had just dropped two marbles. There was an old Asiatic in a long overcoat, hooknosed, blue-lidded, with his cut throat gaping and black (his face had been crudely painted for a photograph). He looked like an actor made up as a corpse — greenish, the high cheekbones rose-pink. There was Maria, with her blue and white polka-dot blouse, her thin neck horribly blue, her little snub nose, her red curls plastered to her skull, but with no eyes at all, no eyeballs, only those pitiable folds of torn flesh, strangely sunk into the eye sockets. “Why did you do it, poor Marussia?” Kostia asked stupidly, while his unhappy hands kneaded his cap. This was death, the end of a universe. But a red-haired girl wasn't the universe? The guardian of the morgue, a morose Jew in a white blouse, came up:

“You know her, citizen? Then there's no use staying here any longer. Come and fill out the questionnaire.”

His office was warm, comfortable, full of papers.Drownings. Street Accidents. Crimes. Suicides. Doubtful Cases. “Under what heading should we put the deceased, in your opinion, citizen?” Kostia shrugged his shoulders. Then he asked angrily:

“Is there a heading, ‘Collective Crimes?'”

“No,” said the Jew. “I call your attention to the fact that the deceased has already been examined by the medical expert and shows neither ecchymoses nor signs of strangulation.”

“Suicide,” Kostia interrupted furiously.

He pushed through the drizzle, his right shoulder forward. If he could have fought somebody, broken somebody's nose, or taken a straight right on the jaw — for you, poor Marussia, you sweet little nitwit — it would have done him good. You big fool, why let yourself get so desperate? Everybody knows that men are bastards. Nobody pays any attention to the Wall Gazette, it's only fit to wipe your arse with! How could you be so dumb, you poor baby, oh for God's sake, oh hell! — The whole thing had been perfectly simple. The horror-stricken Y.C. secretary kept her brief statement to himself. It was written on a page from a school notebook and solemnly signed “Maria” (and her family name):

“As a proletarian, I will not live with this filthy dishonor. Accuse no one of my death. Farewell.”

And that was that! On orders from the Y.C. Central Committee, the branch committees were making a campaign “for health, against demoralization.” How should the campaign be conducted? The five young men who made up the Bureau had beaten their brains, until one of them had said: “Outlaw venereal diseases.” It seemed like a brilliant idea. Of the five, two were probably V.D. cases themselves, but they were clever enough to take their treatments in distant clinics. “There's Maria, the redhead.” — “Perfect!” — A strange girl — she never said anything at meetings, she was always clean and tidy, she repulsed any advances, frightened to death, yet flared up when she was pinched — where had she ever caught her case? Not in the organization, that was certain. Then it must have been from the demoralized petty-bourgeois element? “She has no class instinct,” said the secretary severely. “I propose that we publish her expulsion in the yard Wall Gazette. We must make an example.” The Wall Gazette, illustrated with caricatures in water colors which showed a Maria recognizable only by her holiday blouse and her red hair, and grotesquely loaded with a pair of rhinestone earrings, tumbling out of a door from which projected the shadow of an enormous broom — the typewritten Wall Gazette was still posted in the vestibule of the shanty. Kostia calmly took it down, tore it into four pieces, and put the pieces in his desk drawer, because they might be used as evidence in court …

Autumn and the rains carried away the insignificant episode of Maria's suicide. Submitted to the Branch Committee for a recommendation, the case disappeared under the directives for an urgent and immediate campaign against the Right opposition, which was followed by incomprehensible expulsions; then under another campaign, slower in getting started but actually far more drastic, against corruption among Y.C. and Party officials. Under the whirlwind, the yard Y.C. secretary sunk into an abyss of opprobrium — exclusion, derision, Wall Gazette (the broom reappeared, driving him out with his hair standing on end and his papers swirling over the dump heap), and, finally, dismissal for having granted himself two months' vacation in a rest house whose dazzling white walls rose among the rockslides and bursting flowers of Alupka in the Crimea.

Kostia, accused of “having demonstratively torn up an issue of the Wall Gazette (a serious breach of discipline) and having attempted to exploit the suicide of an excluded member as part of an intrigue to discredit the Young Communist Bureau,” was “severely censured.” What did he care? Every night — after the yard, the city, his suppressed rages, his sole-less shoes, the sour soup, the icy wind — he returned to the soothing eyes of his miniature. He knocked at Romachkin's door — Romachkin had aged a good deal only recently, and read strange books of a religious tendency. Kostia warned him: “Watch out, Romachkin, or you'll find yourself a mystic.” “Impossible,” the shriveled little man answered. “I am so profoundly a materialist that …”

“That?”

“Nothing. I believe it is always the same unrest in contradictory forms.”

“Perhaps,” said Kostia, struck by the idea. “Perhaps the mystic and the revolutionary are brothers … But one has to extirpate the other …”


Page 9

“Yes,” said Romachkin.

He opened a book —Isolation, by Vladimir Rozanov. “Here — read this. How true it is!” His yellow fingernail pointed to the lines:

“The hearse moves slowly, the road is long. ‘Well, farewell, Vassili Vassilievich, it's bad underground, old man, and you lived a bad life; if you had lived better, you would rest easier underground. Whereas, withiniquity…'

“My God, to diein iniquity…

“And I am in iniquity.”

“Dying in iniquity is no use,” Kostia answered; “the thing is to fight while we are alive …”

He was surprised to have thought so clearly. Romachkin observed him with the keenest attention. The conversation shifted to the issuing of passports, the stricter enforcement of discipline among workers, the Chief's edicts, the Chief himself.

“Eleven o'clock,” said Kostia. “Good night.”

“Good night. What have you done with the revolver?”

“Nothing.”

One February night, about ten o'clock, the snow stopped falling on Moscow; a mild frost draped everything in sparkling crystals. The lifeless branches of trees and shrubs in the gardens were magically covered with them. Crystals full of a secret light flowered on stones, covered the house fronts, clothed monuments. You walked on powdered stars through a stellar city: myriads of crystals floated in the globes of light around the street lamps. Toward midnight the sky became incredibly clear. The smallest light shot skyward like a sword. It was a festival of frost. The silence seemed to scintillate. Kostia became aware of the enchantment only after he had been walking through it for several minutes, after a Y.C. meeting devoted, like so many before it, to discussing the relaxation of discipline at work. The month was drawing to its close; Kostia, like many others, was going without food. At the meeting he had said nothing, knowing that his formula would be inacceptable: “For more discipline, more food. Soup first! Good soup will put a stop to drinking.” What was the use of saying it? The magic of the night laid hold of him, lightened his stride, cleared his mind, made him forget his hunger, even made him forget the execution of six men the night before, though it had made an unusual impression on him. “Food supply saboteurs,” said the curt official announcement. No doubt they stole, like everybody else — but could they help stealing? Could I — in the long run? The pillars of light above the street lamps tapered upward, very high into a darkness filled with minute frost crystals.

Kostia was going down a narrow street, on one side of which was a row of small private houses from the previous century, on the other a row of six-story apartment buildings. Here and there a discreet light showed through a window. Odd how everybody leads his own individual life! The snow crackled softly under his feet, like rustling silk. A powerful black car, slipping silently over the snow, stopped a few paces ahead of him. A stout man in a short fur-lined coat and an astrakhan cap got out, with a brief case under his arm. As Kostia came almost abreast of him, he saw that the man had thick down-turning mustaches, full cheeks, and a broad flat nose. He thought he vaguely recognized the face. The man said something to his chauffeur, who answered deferentially:

“Very good, Comrade Tulayev.”

Tulayev? Of the Central Committee? Tulayev, of the mass deportations in the Vorogen district? Tulayev of the university purges? Curious, Kostia turned to get a better view of him. The car disappeared down the street. Walking quickly and heavily, Tulayev overtook Kostia, passed him, stopped, looked up at a lighted window. Fine frost crystals fell on his raised face, powdering his eyebrows and mustache. Kostia came up behind him, Kostia's hand remembered the Colt, Kostia's hand drew it out of his pocket, and — —

The explosion was deafening and brief. Deafening in Kostia's soul, like a sudden clap of thunder in a dead silence. Incredible in that boreal night. Kostia saw the thunder burst within him: it was a cloud which swelled, became an enormous black flower fringed with flames, and vanished. A piercing whistle signal whipped the night, very near. Another answered from farther away. The night filled with an invisible panic. Whistles cut across one another, wildly, precipitately, sought one another, collided, cut through the aerial pillars of light. Kostia fled over the snow through small quiet streets, running with his elbows close to his sides, as he ran at the Youth Stadium. Round a corner, now another — he told himself that it was time to walk without any show of hurry. His heart was beating very hard. “What have I done? Why? It was madness … I acted without thinking … Without thinking, like a man of action …” Like snow squalls, fragments of ideas chased one another through his mind. “Tulayev certainly deserved to be shot … Was it my business to know it? Am I sure of it? Am I sure of justice? Am I mad?” A sleigh appeared — could anything be more fantastic? — the driver thrust his crafty eyes and snow-covered beard toward Kostia as he passed.

“What's going on back there, young fellow?”

“I don't know. Drunks fighting again, I suppose. Devil take them!”

The sleigh turned slowly around in the street, to avoid trouble. The exchange of ordinary words had completely sobered Kostia and made him feel extraordinarily calm. Crossing a well-lighted square, he passed a sentry at his post. Had he not been dreaming? In his pocket the barrel of the Colt was still devastatingly hot. In his heart, joy grew inexplicably. Pure joy. Luminous, cold, inhuman, like a starry winter sky.

There was a thread of light under Romachkin's door. Kostia went in. Romachkin was reading — in bed, because of the cold. Gray heather covered the windowpanes. “What are you reading, Romachkin? It's cold in here. It's wonderful outdoors, you have no idea!”

“I wanted to read something about the happy life. But there are no books on the subject. Why have none been written? Don't writers know any more about it than I do? Don't they want to know what it is, as I do?”

Kostia was amused. What a man!

“All I could find was this — in a secondhand bookstore. It's a very old book and very beautiful …Paul and Virginia. It happens on an island full of happy birds and plants; they are young and pure and love each other … It's unbelievable.” He noticed Kostia's exalted face. “But, Kostia, what has happened to you?”

“I'm in love, Romachkin, my friend — it's terrible.”

2. The Sword Is Blind

The papers briefly announced “the premature death of Comrade Tulayev.” The first secret investigation produced sixty-seven arrests in three days. Suspicion at first fell on Tulayev's secretary, who was also the mistress of a student who was not a Party member. Then it shifted to the chauffeur who had brought Tulayev to his door — a Security man with a good record, not a drinker, no questionable relations, a former soldier in the special troops, and a member of the Bureau of his garage cell. Why had he not waited until Tulayev had entered the house, before driving off? Why, instead of going in immediately, had Tulayev walked a few paces down the sidewalk? Why? The entire mystery of the crime seemed to center in these two unknowns. No one was aware that Tulayev had hoped to spend a few minutes with the wife of an absent friend; that a bottle of vodka and two dimpled arms, a milky body, warm under a house dress, were waiting for him … But the fatal bullet had not been shot from the chauffeur's pistol; and the fatal weapon remained undiscoverable. Interrogated for sixty consecutive hours by inquisitors who themselves became exhausted and relayed each other every four hours, the chauffeur sank to the verge of insanity without changing his declarations, except insofar as he finally lost the power of speech, the faculty of reason, and even the use of the facial muscles which the nerves must activate in order to produce speech and expression. After thirty-four hours of questioning, he was no longer a man but a lay figure of suffering flesh and shapeless clothes. They dosed him with strong coffee, brandy, as many cigarettes as he wanted. They gave him an injection. His fingers dropped the cigarettes, his lips forgot to drink when a glass was held to them; every hour two men from the special detachment dragged him to the washroom, held his head under the faucet, doused him with ice-cold water. He scarcely moved, limp in their hands even under the icy water, and the men thought that he took advantage of these moments of respite to sleep while they held him up; handling that human rag demoralized them after a few hours, and they had to be replaced. They held him in his chair to keep him from falling onto the floor. Suddenly the examining judge hammered the butt of his revolver on the table and roared:

“Open your eyes, prisoner. I forbade you to sleep! Answer! After you fired, what did you do?”

At this three hundredth repetition of the same question, the man from whom all intelligence, all resistance had been drained, the man who had no self left, his eyes bloodshot, his sagging face horribly scarred, began to answer:

“I …”

Then he collapsed onto the table with a sound like a snore. Foamy saliva ran from his mouth. They sat him up. They poured a drink of Armenian brandy between his teeth.

“… didn't fire …”

“Liar!”

The judge was so exasperated that he slapped him with all his strength; and the judge felt as if he had hit a swinging manikin. The judge swallowed a half a glass of tea at one gulp — but the tea was really warm brandy. A sudden chill seized him. Low voices crept behind him. The partition was merely a curtain drawn across a darkened room, six feet away. From behind it, everything that went on in the lighted room was clearly visible. Several persons had silently entered the darkened room, all respectfully following the first. Tired of picking up the telephone and asking “What about the plot?” only to hear the High Commissar's unstrung voice repeat the idiotic formula, “The investigation is being pursued without yielding any substantial results” — the Chief had come himself. Boots, short coarse tunic, bare head, low brow, tense face, bushy mustache — from the invisible hide-out he had avidly fixed his eyes on the eyes of the chauffeur — who did not see him, who could no longer see anything. He had listened. Behind him stood the exhausted High Commissar, straight as a sentry; behind them again, nearer to the door, in complete darkness, other gold-braided personages, mute and petrified. The Chief turned to the High Commissar and, in a very low voice, said:

“Have this useless torture stopped instantly. You can see for yourself that the man knows nothing.”

The uniforms drew to either side before him. He strode toward the elevator — alone, jaws clenched, frowning — followed by a single absolutely trustworthy guard, of whom he was fond. “Don't come with me,” he had said to the High Commissar severely. “Attend to the plot.”

Terror and feverish activity reigned in the building, concentrated in the story where, at twenty tables, interrogations were being carried on without a break. In the private office which he had reserved for himself on the spot, the High Commissar stupidly opened a pointless dossier, then another even more pointless. Nothing! He felt sick. He could have vomited like the chauffeur, who, his mouth ringed with foam, was at last being carried away on a stretcher — to sleep. For a time the High Commissar wandered from office to office. In No. 266, the chauffeur's wife was weeping as she admitted that she often consulted fortunetellers, that she had secretly attended religious services, that she was jealous, that … In No. 268, the sentry who had been on duty at the time and place of the assassination repeated again that he had gone into the court to warm himself at the brazier, because Comrade Tulayev never came home before midnight; that, hearing the shot, he had rushed out into the street; that at first he had seen no one because Comrade Tulayev had fallen against the wall; that he had only been intensely surprised by the peculiar light …

The High Commissar entered. The sentry was testifying standing at attention, calmly, in a voice that showed emotion. The High Commissar asked:

“What light are you referring to?”

“An extraordinary light, a supernatural light — I can't describe it — there were pillars of light up to the sky, glittering, dazzling …”

“Are you a Believer?”

“No, Comrade Chief, member of the Society of the Godless for four years, dues paid up.”

The High Commissar turned on his heel, shrugging his shoulders. In No. 270 a thick market woman's voice was relating, with many interpolated sighs and exclamations of “Oh Jesus, my God,” that at the Smolensk market everyone said that poor Comrade Tulayev, beloved of the great Comrade Chief, had been found at the gate of the Kremlin with his throat cut and his heart pierced by a dagger with a triangular blade, like poor little Czarevich Dimitri long ago, and the monsters had gouged out his eyes, and she had cried over it with Marfa who sells grain, with Frossia who resells cigarettes, with Niucha who … Her intolerable and endless chatter was being patiently recorded by a young officer in a tight uniform and eyeglasses, with a medal bearing the Chief's profile on his chest — he wrote it all down rapidly on long sheets of paper. He was so occupied that he did not look up at the High Commissar, who stood framed in the door and who left without uttering a word.

On his own desk the High Commissar found a red envelope from the Central Committee, General Secretariat,Urgent Strictly Confidential… Three lines, ordering him to “follow the Titov matter with the greatest attention and report to us personally on it.” Very significant, that! Bad. So the new Deputy High Commissar was spying without even trying to save appearances. Onlyhecould have informed the General Secretariat (and without the knowledge of his superior) of the Titov matter — the mere mention of which made you want to spit with disgust! An anonymous denunciation, in big schoolboy handwriting, which had arrived that morning: “Matvei Titov said that it's Security that had Comrade Tulayev killed because there's a long reckoning between them. He said: Me, I feel it in my bones that it's the Gepeous, I tell you. He said that in front of his servant Sidorovna, and Palkin the coachman, and a clothes seller who lives at the corner of Ragman Alley and Holy Field Street, at the end of the court, one flight up, on the right. Matvei Titov is an enemy of the Soviet government and our beloved Comrade Chief and an exploiter of the people who makes his servant sleep in the hall with no fire and has got the poor daughter of a collectivized peasant pregnant and refuses to pay the food allowance for her child who will come into this world in pain and misery …” And twenty more lines of the same. Deputy High Commissar Gordeyev was having this document photographed and typewritten for immediate transmission to the Political Bureau!


Page 10

At that moment, Gordeyev came in: stout, blond, his hair pomaded, round face, a suspicion of downy mustache, big tortoise-shell spectacles. There was something porcine about him, and with it the servile insolence of the domestic animal too well fed by its human masters.

“I fail to understand you, Comrade Gordeyev,” the High Commissar said carelessly. “You have communicated this absurd statement to the Political Bureau? To what end?”

Gordeyev looked offended. “But, Maxim Andreyevich,” he protested, “there is a C.C. circular which prescribes that all complaints, denunciations, and even allusions to which we are subjected shall be submitted to the P.B. Circular dated March 16 … And the Titov matter is hardly to be called absurd — it reveals a state of mind among the masses of which we should be more fully informed … I have had Titov arrested, together with a number of his acquaintances …”

“Perhaps you have even interrogated him yourself by now?”

The High Commissar's mocking tone appeared to escape Gordeyev, who thought it his best tactics to appear stupid:

“Not personally. My secretary was present at the interrogation. It is extremely interesting to trace the origins of the myths which get into circulation about us. Don't you think so?”

“And have you found the origin of this one?”

“Not yet.”

On the sixth day of the investigation, High Commissar Erchov, summoned by telephone to present himself at the General Secretariat immediately, waited in an anteroom there for thirty-five minutes. Everyone in the Secretariat knew that he was counting the minutes. At last the tall doors opened to him, he saw the Chief at his desk, before his telephones — solitary, graying, his head bowed. It was a massive head; and seen, as Erchov saw it, against the light, it looked somber. The room was large, high-ceilinged, and comfortable, but almost bare … The Chief did not raise his head, did not hold out his hand to Erchov, did not ask him to sit down. To maintain his dignity, the High Commissar advanced to the edge of the table and opened his brief case.

“The plot?” the Chief asked, Erchov saw that his face had the concentrated look, the hard lines, of his cold rages.

“I am inclined to accept the view that the assassination of Comrade Tulayev was the act of an isolated individual …”

“Very efficient, your isolated individual! Remarkably well organized!”

Erchov felt the sarcasm in the back of his neck, the place where the executioner's bullet lodges. Could Gordeyev have sunk so low as to carry on a secret investigation of his own and then conceal the results? It would have been almost impossible. In any case, there was nothing to answer …

The silence which followed annoyed the Chief.

“Let us accept your view provisionally. By the decision of the Political Bureau, the case will not be closed until the criminals have been punished …”

“Exactly what I was about to propose,” said the High Commissar, playing up.

“Do you propose any sanctions?”

“I have them here.”

The sanctions filled several typewritten sheets. Twenty-five names. The Chief glanced over them.

“You are losing your mind, Erchov,” he said angrily. “This doesn't sound like you! Ten years for the chauffeur! When it was his duty not to leave the person entrusted to him until he had seen him safely home?”

To the other proposals he said nothing. On the other hand, his outburst caused the High Commissar to increase all the suggested sentences. The sentry who had been warming himself at the brazier during the assassination would be sent to the Pechora labor camp for ten years instead of eight. Tulayev's secretary and her lover, the student, would be deported — the woman to Vologda, which was mild, the student to Turgai, in the Kazakstan desert — for five years each (instead of three). As he handed the revised sheet to Gordeyev, the High Commissar allowed himself the pleasure of saying:

“Your proposals were considered too mild, Comrade Gordeyev. I have corrected them.”

“Thank you,” said Gordeyev, with a polite bow of his pomaded head. “For my part, I have permitted myself to take a step which you will certainly approve. I have had a list made of all persons whose antecedents might make them suspect of terrorism. So far we have found seventeen hundred names of persons still at liberty.”

“Very interesting …”

(He hadn't thought that up himself, the greasy-headed stool pigeon! Perhaps the idea had come from high up, from very high up …)

“Of these seventeen hundred persons, twelve hundred are Party members; about a hundred still hold important offices; several have repeatedly occupied positions in the immediate circle of the Chief of the Party; three are actually in Security …”

He had spoken with assurance but without emotion, and every sentence had told. What are you doing, who are you after, you climber? You have your sights on the very heart of the Party! The High Commissar remembered that, during the trouble in Tashkent in 1914, he had fired on the mounted militia, and as a result had been imprisoned in a fortress for eighteen months … Then am I suspect? Am I one of the three “ex-terrorists,” “members of the Party,” with jobs in Security?

“Have you informed anyone whomsoever of your researches in this direction?”

“No, naturally not,” the pomaded head replied suavely, “certainly not. Only the General Secretary, who made the necessary arrangements for me to obtain certain dossiers from the Central Control Commission.”

This time, the High Commissar felt definitely caught in the meshes of a net that was closing about him for no reason at all. Tomorrow or next week, on one pretext or another, they would finish the process of removing the last colleagues in whom he could trust: Gordeyev would replace them by men of his own … For years this same office had been occupied by someone else — a man whose figure and voice, whose peculiarities of speech, whose trick of clasping his hands, of frowning and holding his pen suspended over a document he was to sign, Erchov knew intimately; a man who had worked zealously and conscientiously ten or twelve hours a day … Around that obedient, skillful, and implacable man, too, the net had closed; he had struggled in its inextricable meshes, refusing to understand, to see, yet feeling more defeated day by day, growing visibly older; in a few weeks he had acquired the look of a little clerk who had taken orders all his life; he had let his subordinates make his decisions for him; he had spent his nights drinking with a little actress from the Opera, his days thinking of blowing out his brains — until the evening when they had come and arrested him … But perhaps he was actually guilty, whereas I …

Gordeyev said:

“I have made a selection from the list of seventeen hundred — some forty names for the present. Some of them are very highly placed. Do you care to go over it?”

“Have it brought to me immediately,” said the High Commissar in a tone of authority, while an uncomfortable chill crept through his limbs.

Alone in his huge office, communing with the dossiers, with suspicion, fear, power, powerlessness, the High Commissar became his simple self — Maxim Andreyevich Erchov, a man forty years old, in vigorous health, prematurely wrinkled, with puffy eyelids, a thin-lipped mouth, and uneasy eyes … His predecessors here had been Henri Grigoryevich, who had breathed the air of these offices for ten years and was executed after the trial of the Twenty-one; then Piotr Eduardovich, who had disappeared — that is to say, who was confined on the second floor of the subterranean prison under the particular supervision of an official appointed by the Political Bureau. What admission did they want from him? Piotr Eduardovich had been fighting for five months — if “fighting” was the proper term for turning gray at thirty-five and repeating “No, no, no, it is not true,” with no hope except to die in silence — unless solitary confinement had driven him mad enough to hope for anything else.

Erchov, recalled from the Far East, where he had thought himself happily forgotten by the Personnel Service, had been offered an unparalleled promotion: High Commissar for Security in conjunction with Commissar of the People for Internal Affairs, which practically carried with it the rank of marshal — the sixth marshal — or was it the third, since three of the five had disappeared? “Comrade Erchov, the Party puts its confidence in you! I congratulate you!” The words were spoken, his hand shaken, the office (it was one of the Central Committee offices, on the same floor as the General Secretariat) was full of smiles. Unannounced, the Chief entered quickly, looked him up and down for a split second — a superior studying an inferior; then, so simply, so cordially, smiling like the others and perfectly at ease, the Chief shook Maxim Andreyevich Erchov's hand and looked into his eyes with perfect friendliness. “A heavy responsibility, Comrade Erchov. Bear it well.” The press photographer flashed his magnesium lightning over all the smiles … Erchov had reached the pinnacle of his life, and he was afraid. Three thousand dossiers, of capital importance because they called for capital punishment, three thousand nests of hissing vipers, suddenly descended like an avalanche upon his life, to remain with him every instant. For a moment the greatness of the Chief reassured him. The Chief, addressing him as “Maxim Andreyevich” in a cordial tone, paternally advised him “to go easy with personnel, keeping the past in mind yet never failing in vigilance, to put a stop to abuses.” — “Men have been executed whom I loved, whom I trusted, men precious to the Party and the State!” he exclaimed bitterly. “Yet the Political Bureau cannot possibly review every sentence! It is up to you,” he concluded. “You have my entire confidence.” The power that emanated from him with spontaneous, human, and perfectly simple; the kindly smile, in which the russet eyes and the bushy mustache joined, attested it; it made you love him, believe in him, praise him as he was praised in the press and in official speeches, but sincerely, warmly. When the General Secretary filled his pipe, Maxim Andreyevich Erchov, High Commissar for Interior Defense, “sword of the dictatorship,” “keen and ever-wakeful eye of the Party,” “the most implacable and the most human of the faithful collaborators of the greatest Chief of all times” (these phrases had appeared in thePolitical Service Schools Gazettethat very morning) — Maxim Andreyevich Erchov felt that he loved the man and that he feared him as one fears mystery. “No bureaucratic delays, now!” the Chief added. “Not too much paper work! Clear, up-to-date dossiers, with no official rigmarole and no missing documents — and action! Otherwise you will find yourself drowned in work.” — “An inspired directive” was the sober comment of one of the members of the Special Commission (composed of the heads of bureaus) when Erchov repeated it to them word for word.

Nevertheless, the swarming, proliferating, overflowing, all-conquering dossiers refused to relinquish the most minor memorandums; on the contrary, they continued to swell. Thousands of cases had been opened during the first great trial of traitors, a trial “of world-wide importance”; thousands more had been opened, before the original thousands had been disposed of, during the second trial; thousands during the third trial; thousands during the preliminary investigations for the fourth, fifth, and sixth trials, which never came into court because they were suppressed. Dossiers arrived from the Ussuri (Japanese agents), from Yakutia (sabotage, espionage, and traitors in the gold placers), from Buriat-Mongolia (the case of the Buddhist monasteries), from Vladivostok (the case of the submarine fleet command), from the construction yards of Komsomolsk, City of the Young Communists (terrorist propaganda, demoralization, abuse of power, Trotskyism-Bukharinism), from Tsingkiang (smuggling, contacts with Japanese and British agents, Moslem intrigues), from all the Turkestan republics (separatism, Pan-Turkism, banditry, foreign intelligence services; Mahmudism — but who on earth was Mahmud? — in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tadjikistan, Kazakstan, Old Bokhara, Syr Darya); the Samarkand assassination was connected with the Alm Ata scandal, the Alm Ata scandal with the case of espionage (aggravated by the kidnaping of an Iranian national) at the Ispahan Consulate; forgotten cases came to life again in concentration camps in the Arctic, new cases were born in prisons; memorandums in code, dated from Paris, Oslo, Washington, Panama, Hankow, Canton in flames, Guernica in ruins, bombed Barcelona, Madrid desperately surviving under a succession of terrors (and so on — consult a map of the two hemispheres) demanded investigations; Kaluga announced suspicious epidemics among livestock, Tambov agrarian discontent, Leningrad presented twenty dossiers simultaneously — the Sailors' Club case, the Red Triangle Factory case, the Academy of Sciences case, the Former Revolutionary Prisoners case, the Leninist Youth case, the Geologic Committee case, the Free Masons case, the matter of homosexuality in the Fleet … Now here, now there, a succession of shots traversed this mass of names, documents, figures, mysterious lives whose mystery was never entirely laid bare, supplementary investigations, denunciations, reports, insane ideas. Several hundred uniformed men, ranked in a strict hierarchy, dealt with these papers day and night, were dealt with by them in their turn, suddenly vanished into them, passing the perpetual labor on to other hands. On the summit of the pyramid stood Maxim Andreyevich Erchov. What could he do?

From the P.B. meeting which he had attended he brought back an oral directive which the Chief had repeated several times: “You must make good your predecessor's errors!” Predecessors were never mentioned by name; Erchov felt grateful to the Chief (but why, after all?) for not having said, “the traitor's errors.” From every branch of the Central Committee arrived complaints concerning the disorganization of personnel, which had been so affected by purges and repressive measures in the last two years that instead of being rejuvenated it was melting away; the result had been fresh cases of sabotage, clearly due to the muddleheadedness, incompetence, insecurity, and pusillanimity of industrial personnel. Without arousing the Chief's disapproval, a member of the Organization Bureau had emphasized the urgent necessity of restoring to productive employment those who had been wrongfully sentenced, upon calumnious denunciations, as a result of mass campaigns, and so forth, and even of guilty persons toward whom indulgence seemed feasible. “Are we not,” he had cried, “the country which remakes men? We transform even our worst enemies …” This oratorical sally had fallen into a sort of void. For a second the High Commissar's mind dwelt on an annoying counterrevolutionary joke: “Remaking men consists in reducing them, by persuasion, to the condition of corpses …” Precisely at that moment the Chief's kindly eyes looked meaningfully at Erchov. Erchov put his entire staff on their mettle: within ten days, ten thousand dossiers, preferably those of industrial administrators (Communists), technicians (non-Party members), and officers (Communists and non-Party members), were carefully reviewed, which made possible 6,727 releases, of which 47.5 per cent resulted in rehabilitations. The more thoroughly to overwhelm his “predecessor” — whose chief assistants had just been executed — the papers announced that, during the late purges, the percentage of innocent persons sentenced had risen to over 50; this seemingly produced a good effect; but the C.C. statisticians responsible for the figures, and the assistant press director who had authorized their publication, were immediately dismissed when it was learned that an émigré newspaper published in Paris had perfidiously commented upon the facts thus revealed. Erchov and his staff fell upon yet more mountains of dossiers, working day and night. At this point two pieces of news threw them into confusion. An ex-Communist, expelled from the Party on the basis of an undeniably calumnious denunciation which accused him of being a Trotskyist and the son of a priest (the documents proved that he had been conspicuous in the campaigns against Trotskyism from 1925 to 1937, and that he was the son of a mechanic in the factory at Bryansk), having been released from the “special cases” concentration camp at Kem, on the White Sea, returned to Smolensk and there killed a member of the Party Committee. A woman doctor, released from a work camp in the Urals, was arrested as she attempted to cross the border into Estonia. Seven hundred and fifty new denunciations against recently released persons appeared; in thirty instances the supposedly innocent turned out to be undeniably guilty — or at least so divers committees affirmed. A rumor gained headway: Erchov was not doing the job. Too liberal, too hasty, not sufficiently versed in the technique of repression.


Page 11

Then came the Tulayev case.

Gordeyev was still following it, in accordance with special instructions from the Political Bureau. When Erchov questioned him about the chauffeur's execution, he answered, with offensive reserve:

“… Night before last, with the four Fur Trust saboteurs and the little music-hall actress condemned for espionage …”

Erchov flinched — but imperceptibly, for he made every effort to keep his feelings concealed. Was it chance, coincidence, or a slap? He had admired the little actress — her lithe body leaping onto the stage, more attractive in the yellow-and-black tights than if it had been naked! — had admired her enough to send her flowers. Gordeyev went on (was it a second slap?):

“The report was submitted to you …”

So he didn't read all the reports that came to his desk? …

“It is most unfortunate,” Gordeyev resumed innocuously, “because, only yesterday, we found material which throws quite a new light on the chauffeur's personality …”

Erchov raised his head, obviously interested.

“Yes. Imagine! During 1924–25 he was Bukharin's chauffeur for seven months; four letters of recommendation from Bukharin were found in his Moscow dossier. The latest was dated only last year! There is more besides: While serving as a battalion commissar on the Volhynia front in 1921 he was accused of insubordination. The man who got him out of it was Kiril Rublev!”

Another slap! By what inconceivable negligence could such facts have escaped the commissions whose duty it was to investigate the past careers of agents attached to the persons of C.C. members? The responsibility was the High Commissar's. What were the commissions under his orders doing? Who were their members? Bukharin, onetime ideologist of the Party, “Lenin's favorite disciple,” whom Lenin called “son,” was now the incarnation of treachery, espionage, terrorism, the dismemberment of the Union. And Kiril Kirillovich Rublev, his old friend — was he still alive after so many proscriptions? “Yes indeed,” Gordeyev bore witness. “He is at the Academy of Sciences, buried under tons of sixteenth-century archives. I have someone watching him …”

A few days later, one of Erchov's recent appointees went insane. The First Examining Magistrate of the Forty-first Bureau was a conscientious ex-soldier, taciturn-looking, with a high, deeply lined forehead. Erchov had just approved his promotion, despite the cautious hostility of the Cell secretary, a Party member. Erchov's appointee suddenly turned on a high Party official and drove him out of his office. He was heard shouting:

“Get out, stool pigeon, informer! I order you to keep your mouth shut!” He locked himself in his office. Several revolver shots rang out. The magistrate appeared in the doorway, standing on tiptoe, his hair rumpled, the smoking revolver in his hand. He shouted: “I am a traitor! I have betrayed everything! Gang of beasts!” — and, to the general consternation, it was seen that he had riddled the Chief's portrait with bullets, shooting out the eyes, making a gaping hole in the forehead … “Punish me!” he went on shouting. “Eunuchs!” It took six men to subdue him. When they had tied him up with their belts, he shook with laughter, inextinguishable, grating, convulsive bursts of laughter. “Eunuchs! Eunuchs!” Erchov, preyed on by an unspoken fear, went to see him. He was tied to a chair, which had fallen over backward, so he lay with his boots in the air and his head on the carpet. At sight of the High Commissar he foamed: “Traitor, traitor, traitor, traitor! I see the depths of your soul, hypocrite! So you've been gelded too, eh?”

“Shall we gag him, Comrade Chief?” an officer asked respectfully.

“No. Why isn't the ambulance here yet? Have you called the hospital? What are you thinking of? If an ambulance is not here in fifteen minutes, you will consider yourself under arrest!”

A short, extremely blond clerk, with irritating side curls, who had entered out of curiosity, papers in hand, looked at them both — Erchov and the lunatic — with the same horror, and did not recognize the High Commissar. Erchov drew himself up, squared his shoulders. He felt the slight giddiness and nausea he used to feel when he was obliged to be present at executions. He left the room without a word, got into the elevator … The departmental heads were obviously avoiding him. Only one of them came to meet him — an old friend who had shared his sudden rise and who was now in charge of the foreign department.

“Well, Ricciotti, what is it?”

Ricciotti's Italian name was a legacy from a childhood spent on the shores of a picture-postcard bay, as was the useless, Neapolitan-fisherboy beauty which he still possessed, the touch of gold in the eyes, the warm guitar player's voice, an imagination and a loyalty so unusual that — on due consideration — they seemed feigned. The general opinion was that he “aimed to be original.”

“Oh, the daily ration of troubles, my dear Maximka.”

Ricciotti took Erchov familiarly by the arm and accompanied him into his office, talking fluently all the while: about the secret service at Nanking which had been abominably taken in by the Japanese; the work of the Trotskyists in Mao Tse-tung's army; an intrigue in the White military organization at Paris, “where we now hold all the cards”; things in Barcelona, which were going as badly as possible — Trotskyists, Anarchists, Socialists, Catholics, Catalans, Basques being all equally ungovernable — a military defeat there was inevitable, no use blinking the fact; the complications which had arisen in connection with the gold reserve; five or six different sets of spies all operating at once … A ten-minute talk with him, as he strode up and down the office, was worth many long reports. Erchov admired and slightly envied the supple intelligence which embraced all things at once and yet remained singularly unencumbered. Lowering his voice, Ricciotti led him to the window. It offered a view of Moscow — a vast white open space, over which human ants hurried in all directions, following dirty paths in the snow; a mass of houses; and, still towering over all, the bulbous domes of an old church, painted an intense blue fretted with golden stars. Erchov would have thought it beautiful if he had been able to think.

“Listen, Maximka, watch out …”

“For what?”

“I have been told that the agents sent to Spain were an unfortunate choice. Of course, so far as appearances go, the remark was aimed at me. But it is you they are after.”

“Right, Sacha. Don't worry. He has confidence in me, you know.”

The hands of the clock were circling inexorably. Erchov and Ricciotti parted. Four minutes to run throughPravda. What's this? — The front-page picture: Erchov should be in it — second to the left from the Chief, among the members of the Government; the photograph had been taken two afternoons ago in the Kremlin, at the reception for Elite women textile workers … He unfolded the paper: instead of one picture there were two, and they had been trimmed in such a way that the High Commissar for Security appeared in neither. Amazement. Telephone. The editorial office? The High Commissar's office calling … Who made up the first page? Who? Why? You say the pictures were supplied by the General Secretariat at the last moment? Yes — very well — that is what I wanted to know … But the truth was that he had learned too much.

Gordeyev came in and amiably informed him that two of the three men who made up his personal escort had had to be replaced — one was ill, the other had been sent to White Russia to present a flag to the workers of a frontier military-agricultural group. Erchov refrained from remarking that he might have been consulted. In the courtyard three men came to attention beside his car and received him with a single “Greetings, Comrade High Commissar,” irreproachably released from three arching chests. Erchov answered them pleasantly and, pointing to the steering wheel, nodded to the only one of the three whom he knew — the one who would doubtless soon be relieved of his job, leaving the High Commissar thenceforth to travel surrounded by strangers, who would perhaps be under secret orders, obeying a will that was not his own.

The car emerged from under a low archway, passed between iron gates guarded by helmeted sentries, who presented arms; the car leaped into a square at the gray hour of twilight. Blocked for a moment between a bus and the stream of pedestrians, it slowed down. Erchov saw the unknown faces of people who did not signify: clerks, technicians still wearing their school caps, a melancholy old Jew, graceless women, hard-faced workmen. Preoccupied, silent, insubstantial against the snow, they saw him without dreaming of recognizing him. How do they live, what do they live on? Not one of them, not even those who read my name in the papers, imagines or can imagine what I am. And I — what do I know of them, except that I do not know them, that though their million names are filed somewhere, can be catalogued and classified, each of their identities is a different unknown, each a mystery that will never wholly be solved … The lights were going on in Theater Square, up and down the steep slope of Tverskaya Street surged the evening crowds. Stifling, swarming city — raw lights slashing across patches of snow, fragments of crowd, rivers of pavement, rivers of mud. The four uniformed men in the high-powered government car were silent. When at last, after circling a ponderous triumphal arch which resembled the door of a huge prison, the car picked up speed down the long perspective of Leningrad Boulevard, Erchov bitterly remembered that he loved driving — the road, the speed, his own quick perception governing speed and motor. They objected to his driving these days. In any case he was too nervous, too preoccupied with work, to drive. A fine stretch of road — we know how to build. A road like this paralleling the Trans-Siberian — that's what we need to make the Far East secure. It could be done in a few years if we put five hundred thousand men to work on it, and four hundred thousand might well be drafted from prisons. Nothing impractical in the idea — I must give it further consideration. The image of the lunatic, bound to an overturned chair in a wrecked office, suddenly hung floating over the magnificent road whose precise black length was bordered on either side by immaculate white. “Well, it's enough to drive anyone mad …” The lunatic laughed derisively, the lunatic began: “You're the one who's mad, not me, it's you, not me, you'll see …” Erchov lit a cigarette, he wanted to see the flame of the lighter flickering between his gloved hands. And the touch of nightmare yielded and was gone. His nerves were ragged … he must take a whole day off, rest, get out in the fresh air … The street lights became fewer, a sky of stars flooded the woods with pale light. Erchov stared at it. Deep within him there was a reverent joy — but he was not conscious of it, his mind pondered figures, intrigues, plans, aspects of cases. The car passed into the shadow of tall spruces covered with snow like shaggy fur. It was very cold. The car turned on smooth snow. The pointed Norwegian gables of a large house stood densely black against the sky — Villa No. 1 of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs.

Here, over objects plain or flamboyantly colored, but all contributing harmoniously to the decorative scheme, a sound-proofed silence reigned. No visible telephone, no newspapers, no official portraits (it was a daring thing to exclude them), no weapons, no administrative memo pads. Erchov would have nothing that reminded him of work: when the human animal puts forth its maximum effort, it requires complete rest: the highly responsible official has a greater right to it than anyone else. Here there should be nothing but his private life — our private life, Valia, you and I. A portrait of Valia as a proper little schoolgirl hung in a cream-white oval wooden frame with a sculptured knot of ribbon at the top. Valia … Valentina. The tall mirror reflected warm Central Asiatic colors. Nothing suggested winter — not even the miraculous snow-laden branches which were visible through the windows. They were only a magnificent stage-set, a piece of white magic. Erchov went to the phonograph. There was a Hawaiian blues record on the turntable. No — not that! Not today! The poor wretched lunatic had cried: “Traitors, we are all of us traitors!” But did he really say “all of us?” — or did I add that? Why should I add it? The professional investigator found himself considering an odd problem. Would the most humane thing be to do away with the insane?

Valentina came out of the bathroom in a peignoir. “Hello, darling.” Hours devoted to caring for her body, and an intense well-being, had transformed the Valia he had first known as a typical young provincial woman from the Yeniseisk; her whole supple, radiant being proclaimed that it was good to live. Yes, when Communist society was at last firmly built up, after many difficult but enriching transition periods, all women would develop as fully … “You are a living anticipation, Valia” — “Thanks to you, Maximka, who work and fight, thanks to men like you …” They sometimes said such things to each other — doubtless to justify their privileges in their own eyes; thus privilege conferred a mission. Their union was clean and uncomplicated — like the union of two healthy bodies which are attracted to each other. Eight years previously, during a tour of inspection in the vicinity of Krasnoyarsk, where he commanded a division of special Security troops, Erchov stopped at the house of a battalion commander in a military city deep in the forest. When his subordinate's young wife entered the room, Erchov found himself dazzled by her innocent and self-assured animality. It was the first time a woman had ever affected him so powerfully. Her presence evoked forests, the chill waters of untamed brooks, the pelts of suspicious beasts, the taste of new milk. She had prominent nostrils which seemed to be perpetually scenting something, and big, feline eyes. He desired her instantly — not for a chance hour, not for a night — he wanted to possess her wholly, forever, proudly. “Why should she belong to someone else, when I want her?” The “someone else,” an officer of low rank, with no future, absurdly deferential to his chief, had a ridiculous way of using shopkeepers' expressions in his speech. Erchov loathed him. To get him out of the way, he sent him off to inspect posts in the forest. When Erchov was alone with the woman he wanted, he first smoked a cigarette in silence; he had given himself that much time to summon up his courage. Then: “Valentina Anisimovna, I have something to say to you … listen carefully. I never go back on my word. I am as straightforward and trustworthy as a good cavalry saber. I want you to be my wife …” Ten feet away, firmly planted in his chair, he looked rather as if he had given a command, as if she must inevitably obey — and the young woman was attracted. “But I don't know you,” she said, desperately frightened — and it was as if she had fallen into his arms. “That doesn't matter. I knew you through and through the first minute I saw you. I am trustworthy and plain, I give you my word that …” — “I don't doubt it,” Valentina murmured, not aware that she was already consenting, “but …” — “There are no buts. A woman is free to choose.” He refrained from adding: “I am chief of the division, your husband will never get anywhere.” She must have thought the same thing, for they looked at each other in embarrassment, with such a feeling of complicity that they both blushed for shame. Erchov turned her husband's portrait to the wall, took her in his arms, and kissed her eyelids with a sudden strange tenderness. “Your eyes, your eyes, you are all sunlight, my …” She made no resistance, wondering dully whether this important official — quite handsome, too — was going to take her then and there, on the uncomfortable little sofa — luckily she had no underwear on, luckily … He did nothing of the sort. He merely said, in the clipped tones of a man making a report: “You will leave with me day after tomorrow. As soon as Battalion Commander Nikudychin returns, I shall explain matters to him as man to man. You will get your divorce today — have the papers by five o'clock.” What could the battalion commander say to the division commander? Woman is free, and Party ethics prescribe respect for freedom. Battalion Commander Nikudychin (whose name means, approximately, “Good-for-nothing”) stayed drunk for a week before he visited the Chinese prostitutes of the city for another sort of forgetfulness. Informed of his misconduct, Erchov treated his subordinate indulgently, for he understood his grief. Nevertheless, he had the Party secretary read him a lecture … A Communist must not lose his moral equilibrium because his wife leaves him — obviously …


Page 12

In these rooms, Valentina liked to pass the days almost naked, wearing only the gauziest of materials. Always her body was as completely present as her eyes, her voice. Her big eyes looked as golden as the curls that tumbled over her forehead. She had full lips, prominent cheekbones, a clear pink complexion, a figure as supple and fresh as a good swimmer's. “You always look as if you had just come bounding out of cold water into the sun,” her husband said to her one day. She glanced into the mirror and answered with a proud little laugh: “That's what I am — cold and full of sunlight. Your little golden fish.”

Tonight she held out her beautiful bare arms to him:

“Why so late, darling? What is it?”

“Nothing,” Erchov said with a forced smile.

At that moment he became clearly aware that, on the contrary, therewassomething, something enormous; it was here, and it would be wherever he went — an infinite threat to himself and to this woman. Perhaps she was too beautiful, perhaps too privileged, perhaps … Footsteps measured the hall — the night guard going to check on the service entrance.

“Nothing. Two of my personal guards have been changed. It annoys me.”

“But you're the master, darling.” She stood there before him very straight, her peignoir half open over her breasts.

She finished filing a lacquered fingernail. Erchov knit his brow and stared dully at a fine firm breast, tipped with a lavender nipple. Still frowning, he met her untroubled eyes, beautiful as a field of flowers. She went on:

“… Don't you do as you please?”

Really, he must be very tired, or such a trifling phrase could never have produced such a strange effect on him … When he heard her casual words, Erchov became aware that actually he was master of nothing, that his will determined nothing, that any attempt he made to fight would fail. “Only lunatics do as they please,” he thought. Aloud he answered with a bitter smile:

“Only lunatics imagine that they do as they please.”

It came to her: “Something is up …” And she was so certain of it, and it made her so afraid, that her impulse to throw her arms around him died. She forced herself to be vivacious. “Isn't it time we kissed each other, Sima?” He picked her up, putting his hands under her elbows as he always did, and kissed her — not on the mouth, but between her mouth and her nose and on the corners of her lips, sniffing to catch the odor of her skin. “Nobody else kisses like that,” he had said to her when he was courting her — “just us.”

“Go take a bath,” she said.

If he did not believe in cleansing the soul — what old-fashioned jargon! — he believed in the blessing of a clean body — soaped, rinsed, doused with cold water after a warm bath, massaged with eau de cologne, admired in the mirror. “Damned if the human animal isn't a beautiful thing!” he would sometimes exclaim in the bathroom. “Valia, I'm beautiful too.” She would come running, and they would kiss in front of the mirror — he naked and solidly built, she half-naked, supple in some vividly striped peignoir … Those were dim memories now, dating from a distant past. In those days, as chief of secret operations in a district on the Far Eastern frontier, Erchov himself tracked down spies in the forest, directed silent man hunts, dealt with double-crossing agents, shuddered in sudden anticipation of the bullet that strikes you down from the brush, and no one ever finds out who fired it … He loved the life, not knowing that he was destined for the heights … The warm water showered over his shoulders. All he could see of himself in the mirror was a drawn face, with anxious eyes between puffy lids. “I look like a man who's just been arrested, damn it!” The bathroom door was open; in the next room Valia put on a Hawaiian record — steel guitar and a Negro or Polynesian voice: “I am fond of you …”

Erchov exploded.

“Valia, do me the favor of breaking that record this minute!”

The record cracked in two, the cold water came down on his neck like a solace.

“I broke it, Sima darling. And I'm tearing up the yellow cushion.”

“Thank you,” he said, straightening up. “You're as good as cold water.”

The cold water came from under the snow. Somewhere wolves quenched their thirst in it.

They had sandwiches and sparkling wine brought to the bedroom. His apprehension had faded … better not to think about it or it would come back. There was not much of tenderness between them; theirs was an intimacy of two very clean and intelligent bodies profoundly delighted by each other. “Want to go skiing tomorrow?” Valia asked, and her eyes opened wide, her nostrils opened wide. He almost knocked over the low table in front of them, so instantaneous was the reflex that carried him to the door. He flung it open — and a woman's voice in the hall cried: “What a fright you gave me, Comrade Chief!” He saw the chambermaid, bent over the carpet, picking up towels. “What are you doing here?” Erchov could hardly articulate for anger. “I was just going by, Comrade Chief. You frightened me …” He closed the door and came back to Valia, his face sullenly angry, his mustache bristling. “That bitch was listening at the keyhole!” This time Valia felt definitely frightened. “Impossible, darling, you're overtired, you don't know what you're saying.” He crouched on the floor at her feet. She took his head in both hands and rocked it on her lap. “Stop saying such foolish things, darling. Let's get some sleep.” He thought: “Do you think it's so easy to sleep?” and his hands moved up her thighs to her warm belly.

“Put on a record, Valia. Not Hawaiian, or Negro, or French … Something of our own …”

“How about ‘The Partisans'?”

He walked up and down the room while, from the phonograph, came the masculine chorus of Red Partisans riding across the taiga: “They conquered the Atamans — they conquered the Generals — they won their last victories — on the shores of the sea …” Columns of gray-cloaked, singing men marched through the streets of a small Asiatic city. It was late in the afternoon. Erchov stopped to watch them. A strapping fellow sang the first lines of each stanza alone, then they were repeated in well-disciplined chorus. The rhythmic tread of boots on the snow made a muffled accompaniment. Those conscious voices, those mingled and powerful voices, those voices with the strength of the earth in them — that is what we are … The song ended. Erchov said to himself: “I'll take a little gardenal …” and there was a knock at the door.

“Comrade Chief, Comrade Gordeyev wishes to speak to you on the telephone.”

And Gordeyev's calm voice came over the wire, announcing new leads on the assassination, discoveries only just made — “so I had to disturb you, please excuse me, Maxim Andreyevich. There is an important decision to be made … Very strong evidence pointing to the indirect complicity of K. K. Rublev.” Which would establish a curious connection between this case and the two previous trials … “As K. K. Rublev is on the special list of former members of the Central Committee, I did not wish to assume the responsibility …”

So you want me to take the responsibility of ordering his arrest or leaving him at liberty, you vermin … Erchov curtly asked:

“Biography?”

“I have it before me. In 1905, medical student at the University of Warsaw; Maximalist in 1906, fired two bullets from a revolver at Colonel Golubev, wounding him — escaped from military prison in 1907 … member of the Party, 1908. Intimate with Innokentii (Dubrovinsky), Rykov, Preobrazhensky, Bukharin” (and the names of these men, who had been shot as traitors after having been leaders of the Party, seemed enough to condemn Rublev). “Political Commissar with the Nth Army, special mission in the Baikal district, secret mission in Afghanistan, president of the Chemical Fertilizers Trust, instructor at Sverdlov University, member of the C.C. until … member of the Central Control Commission until … Censured and warned by the Moscow Control Commission for factional activity. Request for his expulsion on the grounds of Right Opportunism … Suspected of having read the criminal document drawn up by Riutin … Suspected of having attended the clandestine meeting in Zyelony Bor forest … Suspected of having helped Eysmont's family when Eysmont was imprisoned … Suspected of having translated a German article by Trotsky, which was found when the premises of his former pupil B. were searched.” (From all directions, suspicion pointed at the man who now supervised the general history section of a library.)

Erchov listened with increasing irritation. We knew all this before, you rat. Suspicions, denunciations, presumptions — we've had our fill of them! There is not a shadow of a connection between all this and the Tulayev case, and you're only trying to set a trap for me, you want me to arrest an old member of the C.C. If he has been let alone up to now, it must be because the Political Bureau wants him let alone. Erchov said:

“Very well. Wait till you hear from me. Good night.”

When Comrade Popov, of the Central Control Commission — a figure unknown to the general public but whose moral authority was of the highest (especially since the execution for treason of two or three men even more respected than himself) — when Comrade Popov sent in his name to the High Commissar, the latter had him ushered in immediately, and not without a decided feeling of curiosity. It was the first time Erchov had ever seen Popov. On very cold days Popov wore a cap over his thick dirty-gray head of hair — a workman's cap, for which he had paid six rubles at Moscow Ready-to-Wear. His faded leather overcoat had been new ten years ago. Popov had an aging, deeply-lined face, pimply from bad health, a thin faded beard, steel-rimmed spectacles. So he entered — the cap on his gray head, a bulging brief case under his arm, a strange little half-smile in his eyes. “Everything going well, I hope, my dear comrade?” he asked, as if he were an old friend; and, for a fraction of a second, Erchov was taken in by the old fox's guileless manner. “Very happy to meet you at last, Comrade Popov,” the High Commissar answered.

Popov unbuttoned his overcoat, dropped heavily into a chair, murmured: “I'm tired out, damn it! Nice place you have here — well designed, these new buildings,” and began filling his pipe. “It wasn't like this in my day. I was in the Cheka at the very beginning, you know — with Felix Edmundovich Djerzhinski. No, there was nothing like the comfort, the system you have today … The land of the Soviets is progressing by leaps and bounds, Comrade Erchov. You're lucky to be young …”

Erchov politely let him take his time. Popov raised a flabby, earth-colored hand with cracked and dirty nails.

“But to come to the point, my dear comrade. The Party has you in mind. It has us all in mind, the Party. You work long hours, you work hard, the Central Committee knows your worth. Of course you have had almost too much on your hands, what with straightening out the situation you inherited” (the allusion to his predecessors was discreet), “the period of plots through which we are passing — ”

What was he getting at?

“History proceeds by stages — during one period there are polemics, during another there are plots … To come to the point — you are obviously tired. This matter of the terrorist attack on Comrade Tulayev seems to have been a little beyond you … You will excuse me for saying this to you with my usual frankness, absolutely between ourselves, my dear comrade, and as man to man — just as once in 'eighteen Vladimir Ilich himself said to me … Well, because we know your worth …”

What Lenin may have said to him twenty years earlier, he had not the least intention of relating. It was his way of talking — a counterfeit vagueness, with a liberal sprinkling of “well nows,” a quavering voice — how old I'm getting, one of the oldest members of the Party, always in the breach …

“Well now, you must take a rest — just a couple of months in the country, under the Caucasian sun … Taking the waters, comrade — how I envy you! Ah — Matsesta, Kislovodsk, Sochi, Tikhes-Dziri, what wonderful country … You know Goethe's poem:

“Kennst du das Land wo die Zitronen blühn?

“… don't you know German, Comrade Erchov?”

A chill ran through the High Commissar. At last he was beginning to grasp the meaning of Popov's chatter.

“Excuse me, Comrade Popov, I am not sure that I quite understand you. Is this an order?”

“No, my dear comrade. We are simply giving you a word of advice. You are overtired — just as I am. Anyone can see it. We all belong to the Party, and we are responsible to the Party for our health. And the Party looks out for us. The old stalwarts have thought of you, your name has been mentioned in the Organization Bureau.” (He used the term to avoid naming the Political Bureau.) “It has been decided that Gordeyev shall replace you during your absence … We know how well you and he get on together … so it will be a colleague in whom you have complete confidence who … yes, two months … not a day more … the Party cannot give you longer, my dear comrade …”

Moving with exaggerated slowness, Popov uncrossed his legs and stood up: rancid smile, muddy complexion. Benevolently he held out his hand. “Ah — you aren't old enough yet to know what rheumatism is … Well, when will you be off?”

“Tomorrow evening — for Sukhum. I shall begin my leave of absence this afternoon.”

Popov seemed delighted.

“Good! That's what I like — military promptness in making decisions … Even I, old as I am … Yes, yes … Get a good rest, Comrade Erchov … A magnificent country the Caucasus — the jewel of the Union …Kennst du das Land…”

Erchov firmly shook a slimy hand, saw Popov to the door, shut the door, and stood helplessly in the center of his office. Nothing here was his any longer. A few minutes of hypocritical conversation had been enough to remove him from the controls. What did it mean? The telephone buzzed. Gordeyev asked at what time he should summon the department heads for the projected conference?


Page 13

“Report to me for orders,” said Erchov, controlling himself with difficulty. “No — cancel that. No conference today.”

He drank down a glass of ice water.

He did not tell his wife that he was taking this sudden vacation by order. At Sukhum (palms beside an unimaginably blue sea, hot summer weather), the “strictly secret” envelopes reached him for a week — then stopped. He did not dare to ask for more. Instead he spent his time in the bar, with several taciturn generals on their way back from Mongolia. Whisky gave them a common mentality — fiery and ponderous. The news that a member of the Political Bureau had come to stay in a nearby villa sent Erchov into a panic. Suppose he should ignore the High Commissar's presence? “We'll take a trip to the mountains, Valia.” Under a blazing sun the car climbed a zigzag road: dazzling rocks, ravines, the immense enamel beaker that was the sea. Blindingly blue, the sea's horizon rose higher and higher. Valia began to be afraid. She sensed flight, but a flight that was ridiculous, impossible. “Don't you love me any more?” she asked him at last. They had reached four thousand feet and still there was nothing but rocks, sea, and sky. He kissed her fingertips, not knowing if his sickening fear left him capable of desiring her. “I am too afraid to think about love now … I am afraid — what nonsense! … No, it's not nonsense — I am afraid because it is my turn to die …” The landscape of sun-drenched rocks was deliciously fatiguing — and the sea, the sea, the sea! “If I must die, let me at least enjoy this woman and these colors!” It was a brave thought. Avidly he kissed Valia on the mouth. The purity of the landscape filled them with an ecstasy that was like light. They spent three weeks in a chalet high in the mountains. An Abkhasian couple dressed in white (husband and wife were equally beautiful) served them in silence. They slept on a terrace in the open air, their bodies clothed in silk; and, after making love, they were together again as they gazed up at the stars. Once Valia said: “Look, darling, we're going to fall into the stars …” So, occasionally, he tasted peace. But all the rest of the time he was obsessed by two thoughts — one rational and reassuring, the other disguised and perfidious, following its own obscure course, tenacious as decay in a tooth. The first was clearly formulated: “Why shouldn't they retire me for just long enough to get this accursed case settled, since I seem to have made a mess of it? The Chief has shown that he is favorably disposed toward me. After all, all they have to do is send me back to the army. I can't have offended anyone, because I have no past. Suppose I ask to be sent back to the Far East?” The second, the insidious one, murmured: “You know too much — they're never going to believe you'll keep your mouth shut. You will be made to disappear as your predecessors disappeared. Your predecessors went through all this — work, clues, anxiety, doubt, leaves of absence, irrational flight, resignation, and return — and they were shot.” — “Valia,” he suddenly called, “come hunting with me!” He took her on long climbs to inaccessible spots, from which, suddenly, the sea would be visible, fringing an immense map; capes and rocks jutted out into a whirlpool of light. “Look, Valia!” On a rock peak rising from the sunny scree an ibex stood against the blue, horns lifted. Erchov handed Valia the rifle; she put it cautiously to her shoulder; her arms were bare, beads of sweat gleamed on the back of her neck. The sea filled the cup of the world, silence reigned over the universe, the creature stood tense and alive, a golden silhouette. “Aim carefully,” Erchov whispered into her ear. “And above all, darling, miss him.…” Slowly the rifle rose, rose; Valia's head dropped back; when the barrel pointed straight up into the sky, she fired. Valia was laughing, her eyes were full of the sky. The report faded to a faint rasp like tearing cloth. Calmly the ibex turned its slim head toward the two distant white figures, stared at them for a moment, bent its hocks, bounded gracefully toward the sea, and disappeared. … It was that evening, when they got back, that Erchov found a telegram summoning him to Moscow immediately.

They traveled in a private railway car. On the second day the train stopped at a forgotten station in the middle of snowcovered cornfields. An impenetrable gray mist darkened the horizon. Valia was sulking a little, with a cigarette between her lips and a book of Zoschenko's in her hands.… “What do you find to interest you,” he had asked, “in that sort of sour humor which is a libel on us?” She had just answered, angrily, “Nowadays you never say anything that isn't official. …” Going back to everyday life had set them both on edge. Erchov began looking through a newspaper. The orderly officer entered, announcing that Erchov was wanted on the telephone in the station — a defect in the equipment made it impossible to connect the through wire with the private car. Erchov's face darkened: “When we reach Moscow, you will have the rolling-stock supervisor put under arrest for a week. Telephones in private cars must function ir-re-proach-ab-ly. Make a note of it.”

“Yes, Comrade High Commissar.”

Erchov put on his overcoat, which bore the emblems of the highest power, stepped down onto the wooden platform of the deserted little station, noticed that the train was only three cars long, and strode rapidly toward the only visible building. The orderly officer followed him respectfully, three paces behind.Security, Railway Supervision. Erchov entered; several soldiers came to attention and saluted. “This way, Comrade Chief,” said the orderly officer, blushing oddly. In the little back room, overheated by an iron stove, two officers rose as he entered, puppets jerked by the strings of discipline, one tall and thin, the other short and fat, both smooth-faced and of high rank. A little surprised Erchov returned their salute. Then curtly:

“The telephone?”

“We have a message for you,” the tall, thin one answered evasively. He had a long wrinkled face and gray eyes that were absolutely cold.

“A message? Let me have it.”

The tall, thin one reached into his brief case and drew out a sheet of paper on which were a few typewritten lines. “Have the goodness …”

“By decision of the Special Conference of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs … dated … concerning Item No. 4628g … order for the preventive arrest … ERCHOV, Maxim Andreyevich, forty-one years of age …”

A sort of cramp settled on Erchov's throat, yet he found the strength to read it all through, word by word, to examine the seal, the signatures — “Gordeyev,” countersigned Illegible — the serial numbers … “No one has a right,” he said absurdly after a few seconds, “I am …” The short, fat one did not let him finish:

“You are so no longer, Maxim Andreyevich. You have been relieved of your high office by a decision of the Organization Bureau.”

He spoke with unctuous deference.

“I have a copy of it here … Be so good as to surrender your weapons …”

The table was covered with black oilcloth; Erchov laid his regulation revolver down on it. As he reached into his back pocket for the little spare Browning he always carried, he felt an urge to send a bullet into his heart; imperceptibly, he forced his hand to move more slowly, and he thought that he let no expression appear in his face. The gilded ibex on the pyramid of rock, between sea and sky. The gilded ibex threatened by the hunter's gun; Valia's teeth, her straining neck, the blueness … it is all over. The tall thin one's transparent eyes never left his, the short fat one's hands gently grasped the High Commissar's hand and secured the Browning. An engine gave a long whistle. Erchov said:

“My wife …”

The short, fat one broke in cordially:

“Set your mind at ease, Maxim Andreyevich, I shall look out for her myself …”

“Thank you very much,” said Erchov stupidly.

“Be so good as to change your clothes,” said the tall, thin one, “because of the insignia …”

Ah yes, his insignia … A military tunic without insignia, a military overcoat much like his own, but without insignia, lay over the back of a chair. It had all been carefully thought out. He dressed like a somnambulist. Everything was becoming clear — first of all, certain things that he had done himself … His own portrait, yellowed by the sun and dirtied with flyspecks, looked at him. “Have that portrait taken down,” he said severely. The sarcasm did him good, but it was received in silence.

When Erchov came out of the little back room, walking between the tall, thin officer and the short, fat one, the outer room was empty. The men who had seen him come in wearing the stars of power on collar and sleeves did not see him walk out disgraced. “Whoever organized this deserves to be complimented,” thought the ex-High Commissar. He did not know whether the idea had come to him from force of habit, or whether he was thinking ironically. The station was deserted. Black rails against the snow, empty space. The special train was gone — carrying away Valia, carrying away the past. A hundred yards away another car waited — an even more special car. Toward it Erchov strode, between the two silent officers.

3. Men at Bay

Born in the Arctic, sweeping across the sleeping forests along the Kama, slow-falling, eddying snowstorms, before which packs of wolves fled here and there, bore down on Moscow. They seemed to be torn to shreds over the city, worn out by their long journeyings through the air, suddenly blotting out the blue sky. A dull milky light spread over the squares, the streets, the little forgotten private houses in ancient alleys, the streetcars with their frost-traced windows … Life went on in a soft swirling and eddying that was like a burial. Feet trod on millions of pure stars, fresh every instant. And suddenly, high up, behind church domes, behind delicate crosses springing from inverted crescents and still showing traces of gilt, the blue reappeared. The sun lay on the snow, caressed dilapidated old façades, shone in through double windows … Rublev never tired of watching these changes. Delicate, bediamonded branches appeared in the window of his office. Seen from there, the universe was reduced to a bit of forsaken garden, a wall, and, behind the wall, an abandoned chapel with a greenish-gold dome growing pink under the patina of time.

Rublev looked up from the four books which he was simultaneously consulting: the same series of facts appeared in them under four undeniable but unsubstantiated aspects — whence the errors of historians, some purposeful, others unconscious. You made your way through error as you did through snowstorms. Centuries later, the truth became apparent to someone — today it is to me — out of the tangle of contradictions. Economic history, Rublev made a note, often has the deceitful clarity of a coroner's report. Something, fortunately, escapes them both — the difference between corpse and living man.

“My handwriting looks neurotic.”

Assistant Librarian Andronnikova came in. (“She thinks thatIlook neurotic …”) “Be so good, Kiril Kirillovich, as to look over the list of banned books for which special permissions have been requested …” Usually Rublev carelessly OK'd all such requests — whether they came from idealistic historians, liberal economists, social-democrats with a tinge of bourgeois eclecticism, cloudy intuitionists … This time he gave a start: a student at the Institute of Applied Sociology had asked forThe Year 1905by L. D. Trotsky. Assistant Librarian Andronnikova, with her small face framed in a foam of white hair, had expected that Rublev would be surprised.

“Refused,” he said. “Tell him to apply to the Library of the Party History Commission …”

“I did,” Andronnikova answered gently. “But he was very insistent.”

Rublev thought he read a childish sympathy in her eyes, the sympathy of a weak, clean, and good creature.

“How are you, Comrade Andronnikova? Did you find any cloth at the Kuznetsky-most Co-op?”

“Yes, thank you, Kiril Kirillovich,” she said, a restrained warmth coloring her voice.

He took his overcoat down from the coat stand, and, as he put it on, joked about the art of life:

“We lie in wait for luck, Comrade Andronnikova, for our friends and for ourselves … We are living in the jungle of the transition period, eh?”

“Living in it is a dangerous art,” thought the white-haired woman, but she merely smiled, more with her eyes than with her lips. Did this singular man — scholarly, keen-minded, passionately fond of music — really believe in the “twofold period of transition, from Capitalism to Socialism and from Socialism to Communism,” about which he had published a book in the days when the Party still allowed him to write? Citizenness Andronnikova, sixty, ex-princess, daughter of a great liberal (and monarchist) politician, sister of a general massacred by his soldiers in 1916, widow of a collector of pictures the only loves of whose life had been Matisse and Picasso, deprived of the ballot because of her social origins, lived by a private cult whose saint was Wladimir Soloviev. The philosophy of mystical wisdom, if it did not help her to understand the species of men called “Bolsheviks” — men strangely stubborn, hard, limited, dangerous, yet some of whom had souls of unequaled richness — helped her to regard them with an indulgence in which, of late, there was an admixture of secret compassion. If the worst were not also to be loved, what place would there be for Christian charity here below? If the worst were not sometimes very near to the best, would they really be the worst? Andronnikova thought: “They certainly believe what they write … And perhaps Kiril Kirillovich is right. Perhaps it really is a period of transition …” She knew the names, faces, histories, smiles, characteristic gestures, of several prominent Party members who had recently disappeared or been executed in the course of incomprehensible trials. They were true brothers of the man before her; they all called each other by nicknames; they all talked of a “period of transition,” and no doubt it was because they believed in it that they had died … Andronnikova watched over Rublev with an almost painful anxiety, though he did not suspect it. She repeated the name of Kiril Kirillovich in her mental prayers at night, before she went to sleep with the covers pulled up to her chin, as she had at sixteen. Her room was tiny and full of faded things — old letters in elaborate boxes, portraits of handsome young men, cousins and nephews, most of them buried no one knew where, in the Carpathians, at Gallipoli, before Trebizond, at Yaroslavl, in Tunisia. Two of these aristocrats were presumably still alive — one a waiter in Constantinople, the other, under a false name, a streetcar motorman in Rostov. But when Andronnikova managed to get hold of some half-decent tea and a little sugar, she still found a certain pleasure in life … As a means of getting a few minutes' conversation with Rublev every day she had hit on the idea of searching the shops for dress goods, letter paper, choice foods, and telling him the difficulties she encountered. Rublev, who liked to walk the streets of Moscow, went into shops to get information for her.


Page 14

Since he enjoyed breathing the cold air, Rublev went home on foot through the white boulevards. Tall, thin, and broad-shouldered, he had begun to stoop during the last two years, not under the burden of years but under that heavier burden, anxiety. The little boys chasing each other on skates over the snowy boulevard knew his old fur-lined coat, much faded about the shoulders, the astrakhan cap which he wore pulled down to his eyes, his scanty beard, his big bony nose, his bushy eyebrows, the bulging brief case he carried under his arm. As he passed he heard them call: “Hi, Vanka, here's Professor Checkmate,” or “Watch out, Tiomka, here comes Czar Ivan the Terrible.” The fact is that he both looked like a schoolmaster who was a champion chess player and resembled the portraits of the Bloody Czar. Once a schoolboy who had come whizzing along at top speed on a single skate and had crashed into him muttered this odd apology: “Excuse me, Citizen Professor Ivan the Terrible” — and could not understand the strange fit of laughter with which the stern old codger answered him.

He passed the ironwork gateway of No. 25 Tverskoy Boulevard, “Writers' House.” On the façade of the little building a medallion displayed the noble profile of Alexander Herzen. Out of the basement windows wafted the odors of the “Writers' Restaurant” — or rather of the scribblers' trough. “I sowed dragons,” said Marx, “and reaped fleas.” This country is forever sowing dragons, and in times of stress it produces them, strong with wings and claws, furnished with magnificent brains, but their posterity dies out in fleas, trained fleas, stinking fleas, fleas, fleas!In this house was born Alexander Herzen, the most generous man in the Russia of his time, and therefore driven to live in exile; and because he had perhaps exchanged messages with him, a man of the high intelligence of Chernyshevski was manhandled by the police for twenty years. Now in this house the scribblers filled their bellies by writing, in verse or prose, and in the name of the Revolution, the stupidities and infamies which despotism ordered them to write. Fleas, fleas. Rublev still belonged to the Writers' Syndicate, whose members, who not long ago sought his advice, now pretended not to see him in the street for fear of compromising themselves … A sort of hate came into his eyes when he saw the “poet of the Young Communists” (forty years old) who had written, for the executed Piatakov and certain others:

Shooting them is little,

Is too little, is nothing!

Poison carrion, profligates,

Imperialist vermin,

Who soil our proud Socialist bullets!

All in double rhymes. There were a hundred lines of it. At four rubles a line, it came to a skilled workman's wages for a month, a ditchdigger's for three months. The author of it, dressed in a sport suit made of good brown German cloth, displayed a rubicund face in editorial offices.

Strastnaya Square — Square of the Monastery of the Passion. Pushkin meditated on his pedestal. May you be forever blessed, Poet of Russia, because you were not a rat, because you were only a little of a coward, just enough, probably, to save your neck under an enlightened tyranny, when they hanged your friends the Decembrists! The little monastery tower across the square was being gradually demolished. The reinforced concreteIzvestiabuilding, distinguished by a clock, rose above the gardens of the old monastery. At the four corners of the square: a little white church, movie theaters, a bookstore. People in single file waited patiently for a bus. Rublev turned right, into Gorki Street, looked idly into the windows of a big grocery store displaying fat fish from the Volga, magnificent fruits from Central Asia, de-luxe viands for handsomely paid specialists. He lived in an eleven-story apartment building in the next little side street. The spacious halls were scantly lighted. Slowly the elevator rose to the eighth floor. Rublev went down a dark gloomy corridor, knocked softly at a door. It opened, he entered and kissed his wife on the forehead:

“Any heat today, Dora?”

“Not much. The radiators are barely warm. Put on your old field jacket.”

Neither meetings of the tenants of Soviet House nor the annual arrest and trial of the technicians of the Regional Bureau of Combustibles did anything to improve the situation. The cold brought a sort of desolation into the big room. Touched by the twilight, the whiteness of roofs filtered through the window. The green leaves of the plants seemed to be made of metal, the typewriter displayed a dusty keyboard that looked like a fantastic set of false teeth. The strong radiant human bodies which Michael Angelo had painted for the Sistine Chapel, reduced to black and gray by photography, had become uninteresting blotches on the wall. Dora lit the lamp on the table, sat down, crossed her arms under her brown woolen shawl, and looked up at Kiril out of her calm gray eyes. “Did you have a good day?” She kept down her joy at having him back, as a moment earlier she had kept down her fear that he would not come back. It would always be like that. “Have you read the papers? … I ran through them … A new People's Commissar for Agriculture has been appointed in the R.S.F.S.R.; the one before has disappeared. And this one will disappear before six months are out, Dora, I assure you. And the one who follows him too! Which of them will make things any better?” They talked in low voices. If there had been any occasion to draw up a list of tenants of this very building, all influential people, who had disappeared in the last twenty months, they would have discovered surprising percentages, would have concluded that certain floors were unlucky, would have seen twenty-five years of history under more than one murderous aspect. But the list was there — it was in them, obscurely. That was what was aging Rublev. It was the only way in which he yielded.

In that same room, between the plants with their metallic leaves and the dim reproductions of the Sistine frescoes, they had listened all day and late into the night to the senseless, demonic, inexorable, incredible voices that poured from the loud-speaker. Those voices filled hours, nights, months, years, they filled the soul with delirium, and it was astonishing that one could go on living after having heard them. Once, Dora had stood up, pale and shattered, her hands hanging limp, and said:

“It is like a snowstorm covering a continent. No roads, no light, no possible way of traveling, everything will be buried … It is an avalanche coming down on us, carrying us away … It is a horrible revolution …”

Kiril was pale too, the room flickered with white light. From the varnished case of the radio came a slightly hoarse, shaky, hesitating voice, with a heavy Turkish accent — the voice of an ex-member of the Turkmanistan Central Committee, who, like everyone else, was confessing to unending treason. “I organized the assassination of … I took part in the attempt on … which failed … I prevented the irrigation plans from succeeding … I incited the revolt of the Basmachi … I dealt with the British Intelligence … The Gestapo sent me … I was paid thirty thousand …” Kiril turned a knob and stopped the flood of insanity. “Abrahimov on the stand,” he murmured. “Poor devil!” He knew him — an ambitious young fellow from Tashkent who liked to drink good wine, hard-working, not stupid … Kiril rose to his feet and said solemnly:

“It is the counterrevolution, Dora.”

The voice of the Supreme Prosecutor went dismally on and on, rehashing conspiracies, assassinations, crimes, destruction, felonies, treason; it became a sort of weary barking, heaping insults upon men who listened, their heads bowed, desperate, done for, under the eyes of a mob, between two guards: among those men there were several who were spotless, the purest, the best, the most intelligent men of the Revolution — and precisely for that reason they were undergoing martyrdom, they accepted martyrdom. Hearing them over the radio, he sometimes thought: “How he must be suffering! … But no — that is his normal voice — what is it? Is he mad? Why is he lying like that?” Dora walked back and forth across the room, bumping against the walls, Dora collapsed onto the bed, shaken by dry sobs, choking. “Wouldn't it be better if they let themselves be torn to pieces alive? Don't they realize that they are poisoning the soul of the proletariat? That they are poisoning the springs of the future?”

“They do not realize it,” Kiril Rublev said. “They believe that they are still serving Socialism. Some of them hope that they will be allowed to live. They have been tortured …”

He wrung his hands. “No, they are not cowards; no, they have not been tortured. I do not believe it. They are true, that is it, still true to the Party, and there is no more Party, there are only inquisitors, executioners, criminals … No, I'm talking nonsense, it is not so simple. Perhaps I would do as they are doing if I were in their place …”

At that instant he thought, perfectly clearly: “Their place is mine, and some day I shall be there, infallibly …” and his wife knew, perfectly clearly, that he was thinking it.

“They assure themselves that it is better to die dishonored, murdered by the Chief, than to denounce him to the international bourgeoisie …”

He almost screamed, like a man crushed in an accident:

“And in that, they are right.”

For a long time they returned to this obsessing thought again and again, discussed it again and again. Their minds worked on nothing else, they scrutinized this single theme from every standpoint, because in that part of the world — the Great Sixth — history had nothing to work on but this darkness, these lies, this perverse devotion, this blood that was shed day in and day out. Old Party members avoided one another — so that they should not have to meet each other's eyes, or lie ignobly to each other's faces out of a reasonable cowardice, so that they might not stumble over the name of a comrade who had disappeared, not have to compromise themselves by a handshake, or disgust themselves by not giving it. Nevertheless, they came to know of the arrests, the disappearances, the fantastic sick leaves, the ill-omened transfers, bits of secret interrogations, sinister rumors. Long before a member of the General Staff — ex-coal miner, a Bolshevik in 1908, once famous for a campaign in the Ukraine, a campaign in the Altai, a campaign in Yakutsk, thrice decorated with the Order of the Red Flag — long before this general disappeared, a perfidious rumor followed him everywhere, making the women whom he met look at him with eyes that were strangely wide, emptying the antechambers of the Defense Commissariat when he passed through them. Rublev saw him one evening at Red Army House: “Imagine it, Dora. The reception line was not ten feet from him … Those who found themselves face to face with him smiled sweetly and too politely, and disappeared … I watched him for twenty minutes. He sat all alone, between two empty chairs — brand-new uniform, all his decorations, looking like a wax doll as he watched the dancing. Fortunately some young lieutenants, who knew nothing, danced with his wife … Arkhinov came up, recognized him, hesitated, pretended to look for something in his pockets — and slowly turned his back on him …” A month later, when he was arrested as he left a committee meeting at which he had not opened his mouth, the general felt relieved; in fact, everyone felt the relief that comes at the end of a long wait. When the same icy atmosphere began to surround another Red general, summoned to Moscow from the Far East to receive mythical orders, he blew out his brains in the bathtub. Contrary to all expectations, the Artillery Command gave him a handsome funeral; three months later, in accordance with the decree providing that the families of traitors must be deported to “the most remote districts of the Union,” his mother, his wife, and his two children were ordered to set forth into the unknown. News of such cases — and they were many — came to people by chance, confidentially, in whispered conversations, and the details were never fully known. You knocked at a friend's door, and the maid looked at you in terror when she opened it. “I don't know anything about it, he is not here, he will not be back, I have been told to go to the country … No, I don't know anything, no …” She was afraid to say another word, afraid of you as if danger were at your heels. You telephoned to a friend — from a public booth, by way of precaution — and the voice of an unknown man asked, “Who is calling?” very clearly, and you understood that a spy had been posted there and you answered mockingly, though you felt disturbed, “The State Bank, on business,” and then you got away as fast as you could because you knew that the booth would be searched within ten minutes. New faces appeared in offices instead of the faces you had known; you felt ashamed when you mentioned the former incumbent's name, and ashamed when you did not mention it. The papers published the names of new members of the federated governments without saying what had become of their predecessors — which was obvious enough. In communal apartments, occupied by several families, if the bell rang at night, people thought: “They've come for the Communist” — as in earlier days they would immediately have thought it was the technician or the ex-officer who was being arrested. Rublev checked over the list of his earlier comrades and found only two still alive with whom he was more or less intimate: Philippov, of the Plan Commission, and Wladek, a Polish émigré. The latter had once known Rosa Luxemburg, had belonged, with Warsky and Waletsky, to the first Central Committees of the Polish C.P., had done secret-service work under Unschlicht … Warsky and Waletsky, if perhaps they were still alive, were alive in prison, in some secret isolator reserved for those who had once been influential leaders of the Third International; the corpulent Unschlicht, with his big face and spectacles, was generally supposed to have been executed — it was almost a certainty. Wladek, holding an obscure post in an Institute of Agronomy, did his utmost to remain forgotten there. He lived some twenty-five miles from Moscow in a dilapidated villa in the heart of the forest; he came to the city only for his work, saw no one, wrote to no one, received no letters, and made no telephone calls.


Page 15

“Perhaps in that way they will forget me? Do you understand?” he said to Rublev. “There were some thirty of us Poles who belonged to the old Party cadres; if four are still alive, it is surprising.”

Short, almost bald, bulb-nosed, extremely shortsighted, he surveyed Rublev through extraordinarily thick glasses; yet his expression remained cheerful and young, his thick lips were playful.

“Kiril Kirillovich, all this nightmare is basically very interesting and very old. History doesn't give a damn for us, my friend. ‘Ah-ha, my little Marxists,' she says, like one of Macbeth's witches, ‘you make plans, you worry over questions of social conscience!' And she turns Little Father Czar Iohan the Terrible loose on us, with his hysterical fears and his big ironshod stick …”

They were whispering together in a dim antechamber lined with showcases containing an exhibition of grains. Rublev answered with a faint laugh:

“You know the schoolboys think thatIlook like Czar Iohan …”

“We are all like him in one way or another,” said Wladek, half serious, half joking. “We are all of us professors descended from the Terrible Czar … Even I, despite my baldness and my Semitic ancestry — even I feel a little frightened when I look inside myself, I assure you.”

“I cannot in the least agree with your bad literary psychology, Wladek. We must talk seriously. I will bring Philippov.”

They arranged to meet in the woods, on the bank of the Istra, because it would not have been prudent to meet either in the city or at Philippov's, whose neighbors were railway-men. “I never let anyone come to my place,” said Philippov. “That is the safest way. Besides, what is one to talk about?”

Without in the least knowing why, Philippov had survived several sets of economists on the Central Plan Commission. “The only plan which will be completely carried out,” he said lightly, “is the plan of arrests.” Member of the Party since 1910, president of a Siberian Soviet when the spring floods of March, 1917, carried away the double-headed eagles (thoroughly worm-eaten), later commissar with little troops of Red partisans who held the taiga against Admiral Kolchak, he had for almost two years been collaborating on plans for the production of goods of prime necessity — an incredible task, enough to get a man thrown into prison instantly, in a country where there was a simultaneous lack of nails, shoes, matches, cloth, et cetera. However, since he was a man to fear because of his long connection with the Party, directors who wanted primarily to keep out of trouble had set him to work on the plan for the distribution of popular musical instruments — accordions, harmoniums, flutes, guitars, and zithers and tambourines for the East (the equipment of orchestras being undertaken by a special bureau, orchestral instruments did not fall within his province). This appointment provided an oasis of safety, since the supply always exceeded the demand in almost all markets, except those of Buriat-Mongolia, Birobidjan, the Autonomous Region of Nakhichevan, and the Autonomous Republic of the Karabakh Mountains, which were regarded as of secondary importance. “On the other hand,” Philippov commented, “we have introduced the accordion into Dzungeria … The shamans of Inner Mongolia demand our tambourines …” He scored unexpected successes. As a matter of fact everyone knew that the thriving trade in musical instruments was due to the lack of more useful goods, and that their production in sufficient quantities was partly due to the labor of artisans refractory to co-operative organization, partly to the uselessness of the instruments themselves … But that was the responsibility of the higher echelons of the Central Plan Commission … Philippov, with his round head, his freckled face, his straight black mustache, trimmed very short, his big sagacious eyes which shone from between puffy lids, arrived at the meeting place on skis, as did Rublev. Wladek came from his villa in felt boots and a sheepskin coat, like a fantastic and extremely shortsighted woodcutter. They met under pines whose straight black trunks rose forty feet above the bluish snow before branching. Under the wooded hills, the river traced slow curves of gray-pink and pale azure such as are to be found in Japanese prints. The three men had known each other for many years. Philippov and Rublev had slept in the same room in a wretched hotel on the Place de la Contrescarpe, in Paris, shortly before the Great War; in those days they lived on brie and blood pudding; at the Bibliothèque Ste.-Genevieve they commented scathingly on the insipid sociology of Dr. Gustave Le Bon; together they read the accounts of Madame Caillaux's trial in Juarès's newspaper; they shopped at the stalls in the Rue Mouffetard, looking with delight at the old houses which had seen the revolutions, amusing themselves by recognizing Daumier's types in the figures they saw emerging from corridors and halls that were like vaults … Philippov sometimes slept with little Marcella, chestnut-haired, smiling, and serious, who was generally to be found at the Taverne du Panthéon. There, late at night, she and her girl friends danced lusty waltzes in the small rooms downstairs, to the music of violins. They went to the Closerie des Lilas to see Paul Fort, surrounded by admirers. The poet always got himself up to look like a musketeer. In front of the café, Marshal Ney, on his pedestal, marched to his death, brandishing his saber — and Rublev insisted that he must be cursing: “Swine, swine!” Together they recited poems by Constantin Belmont:

Be we like the sun!…

They quarreled over the problem of matter and energy, which was being restated by Avenarius, Mach, and Maxwell. “Energy is the only cognizable reality,” Philippov asserted one evening. “Matter is only an aspect of it …” — “You are nothing but an unconscious idealist,” Rublev retorted, “and you are turning your back on Marxism … In any case,” he added, “the petty bourgeois frivolity of your private life had given me due warning …” They shook hands coldly at the corner of the Rue Soufflot. The ponderous black silhouette of the Panthéon rose from the wide deserted street with its lines of funereal street lamps. The paving stones gleamed, a solitary woman, a prostitute who kept her veil down, waited in the darkness for an unknown man. The war aggravated their long disagreement, although they both remained internationalists; but one of them had enlisted in the Foreign Legion, the other was interned. They met again at Perm in '18, and were too busy to be surprised or to celebrate the occasion for more than five minutes. Rublev was bringing a detachment of workers into the city to suppress a mutiny of drunken sailors. Philippov, a muffler around his neck, his voice a whisper, one arm wounded and in a sling, had just escaped by the merest chance from the clubs of peasants in revolt against requisitionings. Both of them were dressed in black leather, armed with Mausers sheathed in wood, carrying urgent orders, living on boiled groats and pickled cucumbers, exhausted, enthusiastic, radiating a somber energy. They held a council of war by candlelight, guarded by proletarians from Petrograd with cartridge belts over their overcoats. Inexplicable shots sounded in the dark city; its gardens were full of excitement under the stars.

Philippov spoke first: “We have to shoot people or we'll get nothing done.”

One of the men on guard at the door said soberly: “By God, you're right!” — “Shoot who?” Rublev asked, overcoming his fatigue, his desire to sleep, his desire to vomit.

“Some hostages — there are officers, a priest, manufacturers …”

“Is it really necessary?”

“I'll say it is,” growled the man at the door, “or we're done for.” And he came toward them, holding out his black hands.

And Rublev rose, seized by wild anger. “Silence! There will be no interrupting the deliberations of the Army Council! Discipline!” Philippov put his hand on his shoulder and pushed him back into his chair. Then, to end the quarrel, he whispered ironically: “Do you remember the Boul' Miche'?”

“What?” said Rublev in amazement. “Not another word, you Tatar, I beg of you. I am absolutely against the execution of hostages. Let us not become barbarians.”

Philippov answered: “You have to consent to it. First, our retreat is cut off on three sides out of four. Second, I absolutely must have several carloads of potatoes and I can't pay for them. Third, the sailors have behaved like gangsters, and it's they who ought to be shot; but we can't shoot them, they're splendid physical specimens. Fourth, as soon as our backs are turned, the whole countryside will rise … So sign.”

The order for execution, written in pencil on the back of a receipt, was ready. Rublev signed it, muttering: “I hope we have to pay for this, you and I; I tell you we are besmirching the Revolution; the devil knows what all this is about …” They were still young then. Now, twenty years later, growing fat and gray, they glided on their skis through the admirable Hokusai landscape, and wordlessly the past reawoke within them.

Philippov lengthened his stride and shot ahead. Wladek came to meet them. They set their skis up in the snow and followed the edge of the wood, above a river of ice fringed with astonishing white shrubbery.

“It's good to meet again,” said Rublev.

“It's wonderful that we are alive,” said Wladek.

“What are we going to do?” asked Philippov. “ ‘That is the question.' ”

Space, the woods, the snow, the ice, the blue, the silence, the clarity of the cold air surrounded them. Wladek spoke of the Poles, all vanished into prisons — the Left, led by Lensky, after the Right, led by Koschewa. “The Jugoslavs, too,” he added, “and the Finns … It happens to the whole Comintern …” He studded his narrative with names and faces.

“Why, it's even worse than at the Plan Commission!” Philippov exclaimed cheerfully.

“As for me,” Philippov said, “I'm quite sure that I owe my life to Bruno. You knew him, Kiril, when he was legation secretary at Berlin — can you see his Assyrian profile? After Krestinsky's arrest, he expected to be liquidated too and, incredible as it may seem, he had been appointed assistant director of a central bureau in Internal Affairs — which gave him access to the master files. He told me that he hoped he had managed to save a dozen comrades by destroying their cards. ‘But I am done for,' he said. ‘There are still the dossiers, of course, and there is the Central Committee file, but one doesn't show up so much there, sometimes names are hard to find …' ”

“And then?”

“Finis— I don't know how or where — last year.”

Philippov repeated: “What is to be done?”

“For my part,” said Wladek, searching his pockets for a cigarette, and looking more than ever like a mocking, prematurely old child, “if they come to arrest me, I will not let them take me alive. No, thanks.”

“But there are people,” said Philippov, “who are released or deported. I know of cases. Your solution is not reasonable. Besides, there is something about it I don't like. It smacks of suicide.”

“Have it your own way.”

Philippov went on:

“If I am arrested I shall politely tell them that under no circumstances will I enter into any scheme, either with a trial or without. Do as you please with me … Once that is absolutely clear, I think one has a chance of getting out of it. You go to Kamchatka or you draw up plans for timber cutting. I'm willing. How about you, Kiril?”

Kiril Rublev took off his fur cap. His high forehead, under curls that were still dark, stood bare to the cold.

“Ever since they shot Nicolai Ivanovich, I have sensed that they were prowling around me, imperceptibly. And I am waiting for them. I haven't told Dora, but she knows. So, in my case it is a very practical question, which I may have to answer any day … And … I don't know …”

They began to walk, sinking in the snow to their calves. Above them, crows flew from branch to branch. The light was charged with wintry whiteness. Kiril was a head taller than either of his companions. He differed from them in spirit as well. He spoke in a calm voice:

“Suicide is only an individual solution — therefore not Socialist. In my case it would set a bad example. I don't say this to shake your resolution, Wladek: you have your reasons, and I believe that they are valid for you. To say that one will confess nothing is courageous, perhaps overly courageous: no one knows precisely how strong he is. And then, it is all more complex than it appears.”

“Yes,” said the other two, stumbling through the snow.

“One has to become conscious of what is going on … become conscious …”

Rublev, repeating his words in a doubtful voice, wore an expression which was often seen on his face — the look of a preoccupied pedant. Wladek flew into a rage, turned purple, waved his short arms:

“Damned theoretician! There's no curing you! I can still see the articles in which you cut up the Trotskyists in '27 by maintaining that the proletarian party cannot degenerate … Because if it degenerates, obviously it is not the proletarian party … You casuist! What is going on is as clear as day-light. Thermidor, Brumaire, and all the rest of it, on an unheard-of social scale and in the country where Genghis Khan has the use of the telephone, as old Tolstoi put it.”

“Genghis Khan,” said Philippov, “is a great man not properly appreciated. He was not cruel. If he had his servants build pyramids of severed heads, it was not out of cruelty nor to satisfy a primitive taste for statistics, but to depopulate the countries which he could not otherwise dominate and which he intended to bring back to a pastoral economy, the only economy which he could understand. Already, it was differences in economies which made heads fall … Note that the only way he could assure himself that the massacres had been properly carried out, was to collect the heads. The Khan distrusted his manpower …”

They walked a little while longer in deeper snow. “A marvelous Siberia,” murmured Rublev, whom the landscape had calmed. And Wladek turned abruptly toward his two companions, planted himself in front of them in comic exasperation:


Page 16

“What eloquence! One of you lectures on Genghis Khan, the other advocates becoming fully conscious! You are making a mock of your own selves, my dear comrades. Permitmeto reveal something to you! It'smyturn, my turn …”

They saw that his thick lips were trembling, that there was mist on the lenses of his glasses, that straight lines cut horizontally across his cheeks. For several seconds he kept muttering “my turn, my turn” almost unintelligibly.

“But doubtless I am of a grosser constitution, my dear comrades. As forme— the fact is — I am afraid. I am deathly afraid — do you hear me? — whether it is worthy of a revolutionary or not. I live alone like an animal among all these woods and all this snow, which I loathe — because I am afraid. I live without a wife, because I don't want two of us waking up at night to ask ourselves if it is the last night. I wait for them every night, all by myself, I take a bromide, I go to sleep in a stupor, I wake with a start, thinking they've come, crying out ‘Who's there?' and the woman next door answers, ‘It's the blind banging, Vladimir Ernestovich, sleep well,' and I can't get back to sleep. I am afraid and I am ashamed, not of myself, but of all of us. I think of those who have been shot, I see their faces, I hear their jokes, and I have migraines that medicine has not yet named — a little pain the color of fire fixes itself in the back of my neck. I am afraid, afraid, not so much afraid of dying as of nothing and everything — afraid to see you, afraid to talk to people, afraid to think, afraid to understand …”

And indeed it could be read in his puffy face, in his red-rimmed eyes, in his precipitate speech. Philippov said:

“I am afraid too, of course — but it doesn't do any good. I have grown used to it. One lives with fear as one lives with a hernia.”

Kiril Rublev slowly pulled off his gloves and looked at his hands, which were long and strong, a little hairy between the joints — “hands still full of vitality,” he thought. And, picking up some snow, he began kneading it violently.

“Everyone is an ignoble coward,” he said, “it's an old, old story. Courage consists in knowing that fact and, when necessary, acting as if fear did not exist. You are wrong, Wladek, in thinking that you are different from anyone else. However, it is hardly worth our meeting in this magnificent landscape if we are only going to make useless confessions to one another …”

Wladek did not answer. His eyes searched the deserted, barren, luminous landscape. Ideas as slow-moving as the flight of the crows in the sky passed through his mind: Whatever we say is useless now … I wish I had a glass of hot tea … Kiril, suddenly dropping the burden of his years, jumped back, raised his arm — and the hard snowball he had just finished making struck an astonished Philippov square on the chest. “Defend yourself, I attack,” Kiril cried gaily and, his eyes laughing, his beard askew, he grabbed up handfuls of snow. “Son of a seacook,” Philippov shouted, transfigured. And they began to fight like two schoolboys. They leaped, laughed, sank into snow up to their waists, hid behind trees to make their ammunition and take aim before they let fly. Something of the nimbleness of their boyhood came back to them, they shouted joyous “ughs,” shielded their faces with their elbows, gasped for breath. Wladek stood where he was, firmly planted, methodically making snowballs to catch Rublev from the flank, laughing until the tears came to his eyes, showering him with abuse: “Take that, you theoretician, you moralist, to hell with you,” and never once hitting him …

They got very hot, their hearts pounded, their faces relaxed. From a sky which had imperceptibly grown gray, night suddenly fell on lustreless snow, on misty and petrified trees. Breathing hard, the three started back in the direction of the railroad. “How about that one I landed on your ear, Kiril,” said Philippov, chortling. “How about the one I landed on the back of your neck?” Rublev retorted. It was Wladek who returned to serious matters:

“You know, my nerves are all to pieces, I admit — but I am not as afraid as I might be. Come what may, my death will fertilize Socialist soil, if it is Socialist soil …”

“State Capitalism,” said Philippov.

Rublev:

“… We must cultivate consciousness. There is sure progress under this barbarism, progress under this retrogression. Look at our masses, our youth, all the new factories, the Dnieprostroi, Magnitogorsk, Kirovsk … We are all dead men under a reprieve, but the face of the earth has been changed, the migrating birds must wonder where they are when they see what were deserts covered with factories. And what a new proletariat! Ten million men at work, with machines, instead of three and a half million in 1927. What will that effort not accomplish for the world in half a century!”

“… When nothing of us will remain, not even our smallest bones,” Wladek chanted, perhaps without irony.

By way of precaution, they parted before they reached the first houses. “We must meet again,” Wladek proposed. And the other two said, “Yes, yes, absolutely,” but none of them believed that it would really be possible or of any use. When they parted they all shook hands warmly. Kiril Rublev skiied rhythmically to the nearest station, following the silent forest where darkness seemed to grow out of the ground like an imperceptible mist. A thin, blue, terribly sharp crescent moon, curved like an ideal breast, rose into the sky. Rublev thought: “Ill-omened moon. Fear comes exactly like night.”

One evening as the Rublevs were finishing dinner, Xenia Popova came to tell them a great piece of news. On the table there were a dish of rice, a sausage, a bottle of Narzan mineral water, gray bread. The primus stove hissed under the kettle. Kiril Rublev was sitting in the old armchair, Dora in the corner of the sofa. “How pretty are you,” Kiril said to Xenia affectionately. “Let me see your big eyes.” She turned them toward him frankly — wide, well-shaped eyes, fringed with long lashes. “Neither stones, nor flowers, nor the sky have that color,” said Rublev to his wife. “It is the eye's own miracle. You can be proud, child.”

“You'll have me embarrassed soon,” she said.

The clear features, the high forehead, the little rolls of blond hair above the ears, the eyes that always seemed to be smiling at life — Rublev scanned them almost maliciously. So purity was born of dirt, youth of attrition. He had known Popov for more than twenty years — an old fool who, because he could not understand the a-b-c of political economy, had specialized in matters of Socialist ethics. In pursuit of his specialty, he had buried himself in the dossiers of the Central Control Commission of the Party, and now his entire life was devoted to the adulteries, lies, drinking bouts, and abuses of power perpetrated by old revolutionaries. It was he who found grounds for reprimands, distributed warnings, prepared indictments, planned executions, and proposed rewards for the executioners. “Many vile tasks must needs be performed, so there must needs be many vile beings,” as Nietzsche said. But how, by what miracle, did the rancid flesh and the rancid spirit of a Popov produce this creature, Xenia? So life triumphs over our base clay. Kiril Rublev looked at Xenia with a delight in which there was both hunger and malice.

Sitting with her knees crossed, the girl lit a cigarette. She was so happy that she had to do something — anything — to keep it from showing. Making a very unsuccessful attempt to look detached, she said:

“Papa is having me sent abroad — a mission to Paris — six months — for the Central Textile Bureau. I'm to study the new technique for printing cloth … Papa knew that I had been wanting to go abroad for years … I jumped for joy!”

“Why shouldn't you?” said Dora. “I'm terribly glad. What are you going to do in Paris?”

“It makes me dizzy to think of it. I'll see Notre-Dame, Belleville. I'm reading a biography of Blanqui and the history of the Commune. I'll go to see the Faubourg-St.-Antoine, the Rue St.-Merri, the Rue Haxo, the Wall of the Confederates … Bakunin lived in the Rue de Bourgogne, but I haven't been able to find out the number. Anyway, the number may have been changed. Do you know where Lenin lived?”

“I went to see him in Paris,” said Rublev slowly, “but I have no idea where it was …”

“Oh!” said Xenia reproachfully. How could anyone forget such things? Her big eyes opened wide. “Really? You knew Vladimir Ilich? What luck!”

“What a child you are!” Rublev thought. “But you are right.”

“And then,” she said, overcoming a slight hesitation, “I mean to get some clothes. Pretty French things — is that wrong, do you think?”

“Not a bit,” said Dora. “It's a fine idea. I wish all our young people could have lovely things.”

“That's what I thought — just that! But my father is always saying that clothes ought to be practical, that elaborate clothes are a survival from barbaric cultures, that fashion is a characteristic of the capitalist mentality …” The incomparably blue eyes smiled.

“Your father is a damned old puritan … What is he doing these days?”

Xenia chattered on. Sometimes, at the bottom of a clear stream flowing over pebbles, a shadow appears, troubles the eye for a moment, and vanishes, leaving one wondering what it was, what mysterious life was following its destiny in those depths. Suddenly the Rublevs found themselves listening intently. Xenia was saying:

“… Father has been very busy with the Tulayev case, he says it is another plot …”

“I had some contact with Tulayev in the past,” said Rublev in a subdued voice. “I spoke against him in the Moscow Committee four years ago. Winter was coming on, and of course there was a fuel shortage. Tulayev proposed that the directors of the Combustibles Trust be brought to trial. I got his idiotic proposal turned down.”

“… Father says that a great many people are compromised … I think — don't repeat this, it's very serious — I think Erchov has been arrested … He was recalled from the Caucasus, but he has never showed up anywhere … I happened to overhear a telephone conversation about his wife … She has apparently been arrested too …”

Rublev picked up his empty glass from the table, held it to his lips as if he were drinking, and set it down. Xenia watched him in amazement. “Kiril,” Dora asked, “what have you been drinking?” “Why, nothing,” he said with a bewildered smile.

An uncomfortable silence followed. Xenia bowed her head. The useless cigarette burned out between her fingers.

“And our Spain, Kiril Kirillovich,” she asked at last, with an effort … “do you think it can hold out? … I should like …” She did not say what she would like.

Rublev picked up the empty glass again.

“Defeated. And it will be partly our doing.”

The end of their conversation was labored. Dora tried to start other subjects. “Have you been to the theater lately, Xenia? What are you reading?” Her questions found no answers. A damp, chill mist irresistibly invaded the room. It dimmed the lamp. Xenia felt a stab of cold between her shoulder blades. Rublev and Dora rose as she did. Standing there, they overcame the mist for a moment.

“Xenia,” said Dora gently, “I wish you every happiness.”

And Xenia felt a little sad — it was like a good-by. How was she to return their good wishes? Rublev affectionately put his arm around her waist.

“You have shoulders like an Egyptian statuette, wider than your hips. With those shoulders and those bright eyes of yours, you must take very good care of yourself, Xeniuchka!”

“What do you mean?”

“Only too much. Someday you'll understand. Bon voyage.”

At the last moment, in the narrow vestibule cluttered with heaps of newspapers, Xenia remembered something important that she could not leave unsaid. Her eyes clouded; she spoke in a low voice.

“I heard my father say that Ryzhik has been brought back to a prison in Moscow, that he is on a hunger strike and very ill … Is he a Trotskyist?”

“Yes.”

“A foreign agent?”

“No. A man as strong and pure as crystal.”

There was terror in the helpless look Xenia gave him.

“Then why …?”

“Nothing happens in history that is not, in some sense, rational. The best sometimes have to be broken, because they do harm precisely by being the best. You cannot understand that yet.”

Something in her carried her toward him; she almost fell on his chest.

“Kiril Kirillovich, are you an Oppositionist?”

“No.”

On that word, after a few caressing gestures, a few swift kisses on Dora's unhappy lips, they parted. Xenia's youthful footfalls grew fainter down the hall. To Kiril and Dora, the room looked larger, more inhospitable. “So it goes,” said Kiril. “So it goes,” said Dora with a sigh.

Rublev poured himself a big drink of vodka and swallowed it down.

“And you, Dora, you who have lived with me for sixteen years — do you think I am an Oppositionist? Yes or no?”

Dora preferred not to answer. He sometimes talked to himself like that, asking her questions with a sort of fierceness.

“Dora, I'd like to get drunk tomorrow, I think I should see more clearly afterward … Our Party can have no Opposition, it is monolithic because we reconcile thought and action for the sake of a higher efficiency. Rather than settle which of us is right and which wrong, we prefer to be wrong together because in that way we are stronger for the proletariat. And it was an old mistake of bourgeois individualism to seek truth for the sake of conscience, one conscience,myconscience. We say: To hell with my and me, to hell with self, to hell with truth, if the Party can be strong!”

“What Party?”

Dora's two words, spoken in a low, cold voice, reached him at the instant when the pendulum within him began its swing in the opposite direction.

“… Obviously, if the Party is betrayed, if it is no longer the Party of the Revolution, that position of ours is ridiculous and meaningless. We ought to do exactly the opposite — in that case, each of us should recover his conscience … We need unfailing unity to hold back the thrust of hostile forces … But if those forces exercise themselves precisely through our unity … What did you say?”


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He could not sit still in the huge room. His angular frame moved across it obliquely. He looked like a great emaciated bird of prey shut up in a cage that was quite large but still too small. So Dora saw him. She answered:

“I don't know.”

“The conclusions reached concerning the Opposition from seven to ten years ago and formulated between 1923 and 1930 would have to be revised. We were wrong then, perhaps the Opposition was right —perhaps, because no one knows if the course of history could be different from what it is … Revise our conclusions concerning a time now dead, struggles that are ended, outworn formulas, men sacrificed in one way or another?”

Several days passed — Moscow days, crowding on each other, crowded with events, cluttered with things to do, then suddenly interrupted by limpid moments when you forget yourself in the street to stare at the colors and the snow under a cold bright sky. Healthy young faces pass, and you wish you could know the souls behind them, and you think that we are a people numerous as grass, a mixture of a hundred peoples, Slavs, Finns, Mongols, Turks, Jews, all on the march and led by girls and youths whose blood runs golden. You think of the machines waking to strength in the new factories; they are agile and shining, they contain the power of millions of insentient slaves. In them the old suffering of toil is extinguished forever. This new world is arising little by little out of evil — and its people lack soap, underwear, clothes, clear knowledge, true, simple, meaningful words, generosity; we hardly know enough to animate our machines; there are sordid hovels around our giant factories, which are better equipped than the factories of Detroit or the Ruhr; in those hovels men bowed under the relentless law of toil still sleep the sleep of animals; but the factory will conquer the hovel, the machines will give these men — or the men who will follow them, it matters little — an astounding awakening. This unfolding of a world — machines and masses progressing together, inevitably — makes up for many things. Why should it not make up for the end of our generation? Overhead expenses, an absurd ransom paid to the past. Absurd — that was the worst part of it. And that the masses and the machines should still need us; that, without us, they might lose their way — that was dismaying, it was horrible. But what are we to do? To accomplish things consciously, we have only the Party, the “cohort of iron.” Of iron and flesh and spirit. None of us any longer thought alone or acted alone: we acted, we thought, together, and always in the direction of the aspirations of innumerable masses, behind whom we felt the presence, the burning aspiration, of other yet greater masses — Proletarians of all countries, unite! The spirit became confused, the flesh decayed, the iron rusted, because the cohort — chosen by successive trials of doctrine, exile, imprisonment, insurrection, power, war, work, fraternity, at a moment perhaps unique in history — wore away, gradually invaded by intruders who spoke our language, imitated our gestures, marched under our banners, but who were utterly different from ourselves — moved by old appetites, neither proletarians nor revolutionaries — profiteers … Enfeebled cohort, artfully invaded by your enemies, we still belong to you! If you could be cured, were it by red-hot iron, or replaced, it would be worth our lives. Incurable, and, at present, irreplaceable. Nothing remains for us, then, but to go on serving nevertheless, and, if we are murdered, to submit. Would our resistance do anything but make bad worse? If — as they could have done at any instant — a Bukharin, a Piatakov had suddenly risen in the dock to unmask their poor comrades lying through their last hours by command, the fraudulent prosecutor, the abetting judges, the double-dealing inquisition, the gagged Party, the stupid and terrorized Central Committee, the devastated Political Bureau, the Chief ridden by his nightmare — what demoralization there would have been in the country, what jubilation in the capitalist world, what headlines in the fascist press! “Read all about it — The Moscow Scandal, The Bolshevik Sink, The Chief Denounced by his Victims.” No, no — better the end, any end. The account must be settled between ourselves, in the heart of the new society preyed on by old ills …

In that iron circle Rublev's thoughts never ceased to travel.

One evening after dinner he put on his short overcoat and his astrakhan cap, said to Dora, “I'm going up for a breath of air,” took the elevator, and got out on the terrace roof above the eleventh floor. An expensive restaurant occupied it in summer; and the diners, as they listened vaguely to the violins, looked at the innumerable lights of Moscow, spellbound despite themselves by those terrestrial constellations, whose tiniest lights guided lives at work. The place was even more beautiful in winter, when there were neither diners, nor flowers, nor colored lamp shades on the little tables, nor violins, nor odors of broiled mutton, champagne, and cosmetics — only the vast calm night over the vast city, the red halo of Passion Square, with its electric signs, its snow stained by black ruts and footpaths, its swarm of people and vehicles under the arc lights, the discreet, secret glow of its windows … At that height, the electric lights did not interfere with vision, the stars were clear and distinct. Fountains of reddish light in the midst of the dense black of buildings indicated the squares; the white boulevards disappeared into darkness. His hands in his pockets, Rublev made the circuit of the terrace, thinking nothing. A faint smile came to his lips. “I should have made Dora come up to see this — it is magnificent, magnificent …” And he stopped short, surprised — for a couple with their arms around each other's waists were swiftly bearing down on him, leaning forward in a graceful attitude of flight. Skating alone on the terrace, the two lovers swept up to Kiril Rublev, their ravished faces shone on him, they smiled at him, leaned into a long airy curve, and were off toward the horizon — that is, toward the other end of the terrace, from which there was a view of the Kremlin. Rublev watched them stop there and lean on the railing; he joined them and leaned on the railing too. They could clearly see the high crenelated wall, the heavy watchtowers, the red flame of the flag, lit by a search-light, on the cupola of the Executive offices, the domes of the cathedrals, the vast halo of Red Square.

The girl looked toward Rublev, in whom she recognized the old and influential Bolshevik for whom a Central Committee car came every morning — last year. She half turned to him. Her companion stroked the back of her neck with his fingers.

“Is that where the Chief of our Party lives?” she asked, looking off toward the towers and crenelations bright against the night.

“He has an apartment in the Kremlin, but he doesn't often stay there,” Rublev answered.

“Is that where he works? Somewhere under the red flag?”

“Yes, sometimes.”

The young face was thoughtful for a moment, then turned to Rublev:

“It is terrible to think that a man like him has lived for years surrounded by traitors and criminals! It makes you tremble for his life … Isn't it terrible?”

Rublev echoed her hollowly: “… terrible.”

“Come on, Dina,” the young man murmured.

They put their arms around each other's waists, became aerial again, leaned forward, and, borne by a magic power, set off on their skates toward another horizon … A little tense, Rublev made his way to the elevator.

In the apartment he found Dora sitting opposite a young well-dressed man whom he did not know. Her face was pale. “Comrade Rublev, I have brought you a message from the Moscow Committee …” A big yellow envelope. Merely a summons to discuss urgent business. “If you could come at once, there is a car waiting …”

“But it is eleven o'clock,” Dora objected.

“Comrade Rublev will be back in twenty minutes, by car. I was told to assure you of that.”

Rublev dismissed the messenger. “I'll be down in three minutes.” His eyes upon hers, he looked at his wife: her lips were colorless, her cheeks yellowish, it was as if her face were disintegrating. She murmured:

“What is it?”

“I don't know. It happened once before, you remember. A little peculiar, even so.”

No light anywhere. No possible help. They kissed hurriedly, blindly, their lips were cold. “See you later.” — “See you later.”

The Committee offices were deserted. In the secretary's office a stout, bemedaled Tatar, with cropped skull and a thin fringe of black hairs on his upper lip, was reading the papers and drinking tea. He took the summons. “Rublev? Right away …” He opened a dossier in which there was only a single typewritten sheet, read it, frowning, raised his face — the puffy, opaque, heavy face of a big eater.

“Have you your Party card with you? Please let me see it.”

From his pocketbook Rublev took the red folder in which was written: “Member since 1907.” Over twenty years. What years!

“Right.”

The red folder disappeared into a drawer, the key turned.

“You are charged with a crime. Your card will be returned to you, if necessary, after the investigation. That is all.”

Rublev had been waiting for the blow too long. A sort of fury bristled his eyebrows, clenched his jaws, squared his shoulders. The secretary slid back a little in his revolving chair:

“I know nothing about it, those are my orders. That is all, citizen.”

Rublev walked away, strangely light, borne by thoughts like flights of birds. So that's the trap — the beast in the trap is you, the trapped beast, you old revolutionist, it's you … And we're all in it, all in the trap … Didn't we all go absolutely wrong somewhere? Scoundrels, scoundrels! An empty hall, rawly lighted, the great marble stairway, the double revolving door, the street, the dry cold, the messenger's black car. Beside the messenger, who was smoking while he waited, someone else, a low voice saying thickly: “Comrade Rublev, be so good as to come with us for a short conversation …” — “I know, I know,” said Rublev furiously, and he opened the door, flung himself into the icy Lincoln, folded his arms, and summoned all his will power to hold down an explosion of despairing fury …

The snow-white and night-blue of the narrow streets passed over the windows in parallel bands. “Slower,” Rublev ordered, and the driver obeyed. Rublev let down the window — he wanted a good look at a bit of street, it did not matter what street. The sidewalk glittered with untrodden snow. A nobleman's residence of the past century, with its pillared portico, seemed to have been sleeping for the last hundred years behind its ornamental iron fence. The silvery trunks of birches shone faintly in the garden. That was all — forever, in a perfect silence, in the purity of a dream. City under the sea, farewell. The driver pushed down the accelerator. — It is we who are under the sea. It doesn't matter — we were strong men once.

4. To Build Is to Perish

Makeyev was exceptionally gifted in the art of forgetting in order to grow greater. Of the little peasant from Akimovka near Kliuchevo-the-Spring, Tula Government — a country of green and brown valleys, dotted with thatched roofs — he preserved only a rudimentary memory, just enough to make him proud of his transformation. A little reddish-haired lad like a million others, like them destined to the soil, the village girls would have none of him — they called him “Artyomka the Pockmarked” with a shade of mockery. Rickets in childhood had left him with awkward bowlegs. Nevertheless, at seventeen, in the Sunday evening fights between the lads of Green Street and the lads of Stink Street, he brought down his enemy with a blow of his own invention which landed between neck and ear and caused instantaneous dizziness … After these rough-and-tumble fights, since even now no girl would have him, he sat on the dilapidated steps of his house, chewing his nails and watching his big strong toes wriggling in the dust. If he had known that there are words to express the vicious torpor of such moments, he would have muttered, as Maxim Gorki muttered at his age: “What boredom, what loneliness, what a desire to smash someone in the face!” — not for the pleasure of victory this time, but to escape from himself and an even worse world. In 1917 the Empire made Artyem Makeyev a soldier under its double eagles — a passive soldier, as dirty and with as little to do as all his fellows in Volhynia trenches. He spent his time marauding through a countryside which had already been visited by a hundred thousand marauders just like himself; laboriously delousing himself at twilight; dreaming of raping the peasant girls — they were few and far between — whom night caught on the roads, and who, incidentally, had been frequently raped before by many another … As for him, he did not dare. He followed them through a chalk countryside of shattered trees and fields full of shell holes; suddenly the ground would hold up a clutching hand, a knee, a helmet, a jagged tin can. He followed them, his throat dry, his muscles painfully thirsting for violence; but he never dared.

A curious strength, which at first made him uneasy, awoke in him when he learned that the peasants were taking possession of the land. Before his eyes hung the manor of Akimovka, the manor house with its low portico on four white columns, the statue of a nymph beside the pool, the fallow fields, the woods, the marsh, the meadows … He felt an inexpressible hatred for the owners of that unknown universe, which was really his, his from all eternity, his in all justice, but which had been taken from him by a nameless crime perpetrated long before his birth, an immense crime against all the peasants on earth. It had always been thus, though he had not known it; and that hatred had lain asleep in him always. The gusts of wind that blew at evening over fields which the war had disinherited brought him intelligible sentences, revealing words. The people of the manor — “Sir” and “Madam” — were “blood-drinkers.” Private Artyem Makeyev never having seen them, no human image disturbed the image which the words called up in him. But blood he had seen often enough — the blood of his comrades after a burst of shrapnel, when the earth and the yellowed grass drank it — very red at first, so red it turned your stomach, then black, and, very soon, the flies settled on it.


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About this period Makeyev thought of his life for the first time. It was as if he had started talking with himself — and he almost laughed, it was funny — he was making a fool of himself! But the words that arranged themselves in his mind were so serious that they killed his laughter and made him screw up his face like a man who tries to raise a weight too heavy for his muscles. He told himself that he mustget away, carry grenades under his greatcoat, get back to his village, set fire to the manor house, take the land. Where did he hit on the idea of fire? The forest sometimes catches fire in summer, no one knows how. Villages burn and no one knows where the fire started. The idea of the fire made him think further. A shame, of course, to burn down the beautiful manor house, it could be used for — what? What could it be made into for the peasants? To have the clodhoppers in it themselves — no, that would never do … Burn the nest and you drive away the birds. Burn the manorial nest, and a trench full of terror and fire would separate past from present, he would be an incendiary, and incendiaries go to jail or the gallows, so we must be the stronger — but this was beyond Makeyev's reasoning ability, he felt these things rather than thought them. He set out alone, leaving the louse-infested trench by way of the latrines. In the train he found himself with men like himself, who had set off like himself; when he saw them his heart filled with strength. But he told them nothing, because silence made him strong. The manor house went up in flames. A troop of Cossacks rode through the green roads toward the peasant uprising: wasps buzzed around their horses' sweating flanks; mottled butterflies fled before the mingled stench of human sweat and horse sweat. Before they reached the offending village, Akimovka near Kliuchevo-the-Spring, telegrams mysteriously reached the district, spreading good news: “Decree concerning the seizure of lands,” signed, “The People's Commissars.” The Cossacks had the news from a white-haired old man who popped out from among the roadside shrubbery, under the silver-scaled birches. “It's the law, my lads, the law, you can't do anything about it. It's the law.” The land, the land, the law! — there was an astonished murmuring among the Cossacks, and they began to deliberate. The stupefied butterflies settled in the grass, while the troop, restrained by the invisible decree, halted, not knowing whether to go forward or back. What land? Whose was the land? The landlords'? Ours? Whose? Whose? The amazed officer suddenly felt afraid of his men; but no one thought of stopping him from escaping. In Akimovka's single street, where the mud-daubed log houses leaned each its own way in the center of a little green enclosure, heavy-breasted women crossed themselves. This time there could be no mistake — the days of Antichrist were really come! Makeyev, who still clung to his beltload of grenades, came out onto the stairs of his house, a ruinous isba with a leaky roof, and shouted to the old witches to shut up, God damn it, or they would soon see, God damn it — his face growing more and more crimson … The first assembly of the poor peasants of the district elected him president of its Executive Committee. The first DECREED which he dictated to his scribe (who had been clerk to the district justice of peace) ordered that any woman who spoke of Antichrist in public should be whipped; and the text of it, written in a round hand, was posted in the main street.

Makeyev began a rather dizzying career. He became Artyem Artyemich, president of the Executive, without exactly knowing what the Executive was, but with eyes that were deeply set under arching brows, shaven head, shirt freed of vermin, and, in his soul, a will as tough as knotted roots in a rock crevice. He had people who regretted the former police turned out of their houses; other police, who were sent into the district, he had arrested, and that was the last that was seen of them. People said that he was just. He repeated the word from the depths of his being, with a subdued fire in his eyes: Just. If he had had time to watch himself live, he would have been astonished by a new discovery. Just as the faculty of reason had suddenly revealed itself to him so that he could seize the land, another more obscure faculty, which sprung inexplicably to life in his muscles, his neck, his viscera, led him, roused him, strengthened him. He did not know its name. Intellectuals would have called it will. Before he learned to sayIt is my will, which was not until several years later when he had grown accustomed to addressing assemblies, he instinctively knew what he had to do in order to obtain, dominate, order, succeed, then feel a calm content almost as good as that which comes after possessing a woman. He rarely spoke in the first person, preferring to sayWe. It is not my will, it is our will, brothers. His first speeches were to Red soldiers in a freight car; his voice had to rise above the rattle and clank of the moving train. His faculty of comprehension grew from event to event, by successive illuminations. He saw causes, probable effects, people's motives, he sensed how to act and react; he had a hard time reducing it all to words in his mind, and then reducing the words to ideas and memories, and he never wholly succeeded.

The Whites invaded the district. The Makeyevs met with short shrift from these gentry, who hanged them as soon as they captured them, pinning insulting inscriptions on their chests:BrigandorBolshevikor both together. Makeyev managed to join comrades in the woods, seized a train with them, left it at a steppe city which greatly delighted him, for it was the first large city he had ever seen and it lived pleasantly under a torrid sun. In the market big juicy melons were sold for a few kopecks. Camels paced slowly through the sandy streets. A few miles from the city, Makeyev shot down so many white-turbaned horsemen that he was made a deputy chief. A little later, in '19, he joined the Party. The meeting was held around a fire in the open fields, under glittering stars. The fifteen Party members were grouped around the Bureau of Three, and the Three crouched in the firelight, with notebooks on their knees. After the report on the international situation, given in a harsh voice which imparted an Asiatic flavor to strange European names — Cle-mansso, Loy-Djorje, Guermania, Liebkneckt — Commissar Kasparov asked if anyone raised any objection to the admission of candidate Makeyev, Artyem Artyemiyevich, into the Party of the Proletarian Revolution? “Stand up, Makeyev,” he said imperiously. Makeyev was already on his feet, straight as a ramrod in the red firelight, blinded by it and by all the eyes that were fixed on him at this moment of consecration, blinded too by a rain of stars, though the stars were motionless … “Peasant, son of working peasants …” “Son of landless peasants!” Makeyev proudly corrected. Several voices approved his membership. “Adopted,” said the Commissar.

At Perekop, when, to win the final battle in the accursed war, they had to enter the treacherous lagoon of Sivash and march through it in water up to their waists, up to their shoulders in the worst places — and what awaited them ten paces ahead, if not the end? — Makeyev, Deputy Commissar with the Fourth Battalion, had more than one fierce struggle to save his life from his own fear or his own fury. What deadly holes might lie under that water which spread so dazzlingly under the white dawn? Had they not been betrayed by some staff technician? Jaws clenched, trembling all over, but resolute and cool to the point of insanity, he held his rifle above his head at arm's length, setting the example. He was the first out of the lagoon; the first to climb a sand dune, to lie down, feeling the sand warm against his belly, to aim and begin firing from ambush on a group of men, taken by surprise from the rear, whom he distinctly saw scurrying around a small fieldpiece.… On the evening of the exhausting victory, an officer dressed in new khaki stood on the same fieldpiece to read the troop a message from the Komandarm (Army Commander), to which Makeyev did not listen because his back was broken with stooping and his eyes gummy with sleep. Toward the end of it, however, the harsh rhythm of certain words penetrated his brain: “Who is the brave combatant of the glorious Steppes Division who …” Mechanically, Makeyev too asked himself who the brave combatant might be and what he might have done, but to hell with him and with all these ceremonies because I'll die if I don't get some sleep, I'm done in. At that moment Commissar Kasparov looked at Makeyev so intently that Makeyev thought: “I must be doing something wrong. I must look as if I were drunk,” and he made an immense effort to keep his eyes from closing. Kasparov called:

“Makeyev!”

And Makeyev staggered from the ranks, amid a murmur: “It's him, him, him, Artyemich!” The Artyomka whom the village girls once despised entered into glory covered to the neck with dried mud, drunk with weariness, wanting nothing in the world but a bit of grass or straw to lie down on. The officer kissed him on the mouth. The officer's chin was stubbly, he smelled of raw onion and dried sweat and horse. Then, for a brief instant, they looked at each other through a fog, as two exhausted horses reconnoiter each other. Their eyes were wet. And Makeyev came to, as he recognized the partisan of the Urals, the victor of Krasni-yar, the victor of Ufa, the man who turned the most desperate of retreats, Blücher. “Comrade Blücher,” he said thickly, “I'm … I'm glad to see you … You … You're a man, you are …” It seemed to him that Blücher was reeling with sleep, like himself. “You too,” Blücher answered with a smile, “you're a man, all right … Come and drink some tea with me tomorrow morning, at Division Headquarters.” Blücher had a tanned face, with deep perpendicular lines and heavy pockets under the eyes. That day was the beginning of their friendship, a friendship between men of the same stuff who saw each other for a brief hour twice a year, in camps, at ceremonies, at the great Party conferences.

In 1922, Makeyev returned to Akimovka in a jolting Ford marked with the initials of the C.C. of the C.P.(b.) of the R.S.F.S.R. The village children surrounded the car. For some seconds Makeyev stared at them with a terrible intensity of emotion: really, he was looking for himself among them, but too awkwardly to recognize how much several of them resembled him. He threw them his whole stock of sugar and change, patted the cheeks of the little girls who were timid and hung back, joked with the women, went to bed with the merriest one — she had full breasts, big eyes, and big teeth — and installed himself, as Party organizing secretary for the district, in the best house. “What a backward place!” he said. “We have to begin at the very beginning. Not a ray of light!” Sent from Akimovka to eastern Siberia to preside over a regional Executive. Elected an alternate member of the C.C. the year after the death of Vladimir Ilich … Each year new distinctions were added to the service record in his personal dossier as a member of the Party in the most responsible category. Honestly, patiently, with sure tread, he climbed the rungs of power. Meanwhile, as he lost all distinct memories of his wretched childhood and adolescence, of his life of humiliations during the war, of a past without pride and without power, he began to feel himself superior to everyone with whom he came into contact — always excepting men whom the C.C. had appointed to positions of greater power. These he venerated, with no jealousy, as creatures of a nature that was not yet his but which was bound to be his some day. He felt himself, like them, possessed of a legitimate authority, integrated into the dictatorship of the proletariat like a good steel screw set in its proper place in some admirable, supple, and complex machine.

As Secretary of the regional Committee, Makeyev had governed Kurgansk (both the city and the district) for a number of years, with the proud but unspoken thought of giving it his name: Makeyevgorod or Makeyevgrad — why not? The simplest form — Makeyevo — reminded him too much of peasant speech. The proposal, broached in the lobbies of a regional Party conference, was about to pass — by unanimous vote, according to custom — when, suddenly doubtful, Makeyev himself changed his mind at the last moment. “All the credit for my work,” he cried from the platform, under the huge picture of Lenin, “belongs to the Party. The Party has made me, the Party has done all.” Applause. But already Makeyev was terrified by the thought that his words might be construed as containing unfortunate allusions to the members of the Political Bureau. An hour later, he mounted the platform again, having meanwhile run through the last two issues ofThe Bolshevik, the magazine devoted to theory, where he found several phrases which he distributed to his audience, pounding them home with short jabs of his fists. “The highest personification of the Party is our great, our inspired Chief. I propose that we give his glorious name to the new school we are about to build!” His audience applauded confidently, as they would confidently have voted for Makeyevgrad, Makeyevo, or Makeyev City. He came down from the platform wiping his forehead, glad that he had been wise enough to refuse fame for the moment. It would come. His name would be on maps, among the blue curves of rivers, the green blotches of forest, the crosshatched hills, the sinuous black railroad line. For he had faith in himself as he had faith in the triumph of Socialism — and doubtless it was the same faith.

In this present, which was the only reality, he no longer distinguished between himself and the country which — as big as centuries-old England — lies three quarters in Europe and one quarter in an Asia of plains and deserts still furrowed by caravan routes. A country without a history: the Khazars had passed that way in the fifth century on their little long-haired horses, as the Scythians had passed that way centuries before them, to found an empire on the Volga. Where did they come from? Who were they? Came too the Pechenegs, Genghis Khan's horsemen, Kulagu Khan's archers, the Golden Horde's slant-eyed administrators and methodical headsmen, the Nogai Tatars. Plain upon plain — migrations vanished in them as water vanishes in sand. Of that immemorial legend, Makeyev knew only a few names, a few scenes; but he knew and loved horses as the Pechenegs and the Nogai did, like them he understood the flight of birds, like them he could find his way through blizzards by signs which men of other races could not discern. If by some miracle the weapon of past centuries, a bow, had been placed in his hands, he could have used it as skillfully as the divers unknown tribes whom that soil had nourished, who had died upon it and been absorbed into it … “All is ours!” he said, sincerely, at public meetings of the Railwaymen's Club, and he could easily have substituted “All is mine,” since he was only vaguely aware where “I” ended and “we” began. (The “I” belongs to the Party, the “I” is of value only inasmuch as, through the Party, it incarnates the new collectivity; yet, since it incarnates it powerfully and consciously, the “I,” in the name of the “we,” possesses the world.) Makeyev could not have worked it out theoretically. In practice, he never felt the slightest doubt. “I have forty thousand head of sheep in the Tatarovka district this year!” he cried happily at the regional Production conference. “Next year I shall have three brickworks operating. I told the Plan Commission: ‘Comrade, you must give me three hundred horses before fall — or you'll hold up the plan for the year! You want to put my only electric power station under the Center? Not if I can stop you, it's mine, I'll use every measure, the C.C. will decide.”' (Instead of “measure” he said “resource,” or rather he thought he was saying “resource” but he actually said “recourse.”)


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Two Narychkins successively exiled to Kurgansk — one, at the end of the eighteenth century, for misappropriations considered excessive when he fell into disfavor with an aging and obese empress; the other, early in the nineteenth, for some witty remarks on the Jacobinism of Monsieur Bonaparte — built a little square palace there in the Neo-Greek style of the Empire, with a peristyle and columns. On either side of this palace extended the wooden houses of the merchants, the low-walled caravansary, the gardens of the more luxurious dwellings. Makeyev set up his office in one of the drawing rooms to the old-regime governors-general, the very drawing room to which the liberal Narychkin, waited on by indolent servitors, had been wont to retire to reread Voltaire. A local antiquarian told Comrade Artyem Artyemiyevich about it. “He was a Freemason too — belonged to the same lodge as the Decembrists.” — “Do you really believe any of those feudal dogs could be sincerely liberal?” Makeyev asked. “Anyway, what does liberal mean?” A copybook containing a part of the family journal, odd volumes of Voltaire, a copy of Montesquieu'sSpirit of the Lawsannotated in the nobleman's own hand, were still in the attic, together with odd pieces of old furniture and some family portraits, one of which, signed by Madame Vigée-Lebrun, a French Revolutionary émigrée, represented a stout dignitary of fifty, with penetrating brown eyes and an ironic and sensual mouth … Makeyev had it brought down, contemplated Narychkin for a moment, looked sourly at the glittering cross on his chest, touched the frame with the toe of his boot, and pronounced judgment: “Not bad. A real feudal mug. Send it to the regional museum.” The title of Montesquieu's book was translated for him. He sneered: “Spirit of exploitation! … Send it to the library.” “I should suggest the museum,” the antiquarian objected. Makeyev turned on him and, in a crushing voice (because he did not understand), said: “Why?” The frightened antiquarian made no answer. On the double mahogany door a sign was tacked:Office of the Regional Secretary. Inside: a large desk; four telephones, one of them a direct wire to Moscow, the C.C., and the Central Executive; dwarf palms between the tall windows; four big leather armchairs (the only ones in the district); on the right-hand wall, a map of the district especially drawn by a deported ex-officer; on the left-hand wall, a map from the Economic Plan Commission indicating the sites of future factories, of a projected railway and a projected canal, of three workers' housing developments to be built, of baths, schools, and stadiums to be brought into existence in the city … Behind the Regional Secretary's comfortable armchair hung a large portrait in oils of the General Secretary, supplied for eight hundred rubles by the Universal Stores in the capital — a slick and shining portrait, in which the Chief's green tunic seemed to be cut out of heavy painted cardboard and his half-smile miscarried into absolute nullity. When the office was completely furnished, Makeyev entered it with suppressed delight. “Wonderful, that portrait of the Chief. That's real proletarian art!” he said expansively. But what was lacking in the room? What was this strange, irritating, improper, inconceivable blank? He turned on his heel, vaguely displeased, and the people around him — the architect, the secretary of the city Committee, the commandant of the building, the chief clerk, his private stenographer — all felt the same discomfort. “And Lenin?” he said at last; then added, with almost thunderous reproach: “You have forgotten Lenin, comrades! Ha, ha, ha!” His laughter rang out insolently amid the general confusion. The secretary of the city Committee was the first to regain his self-possession:

“Not at all, Comrade Makeyev, not at all. We hurried to get things finished this morning and there wasn't time to put in the bookcase — there's where it will stand — with Ilich'sComplete Works, in the Institute edition, and the little bust that goes on top of it, just like in my place.”

“That's better,” said Makeyev, his eyes still gleaming with mockery.

And, before dismissing them, he announced sententiously:

“Never forget Lenin, comrades — that is the Communist's law.”

Left alone, Makeyev sat squarely down in his revolving chair, turned it happily back and forth, dipped the new pen into the red ink, and wrote a large signature, complete with flourishes — A. A. MAKEYEV — on the memorandum pad with its printed heading:C.P. of the U.S.S.R. Kurgansk Regional Committee. The Regional Secretary. After admiring it for a while, he looked at the telephones, and his full cheeks creased in a smile. “Hello, operator. Seven-six.” His voice became soft: “Is that you, Alia?” Half mockingly, half caressingly: “Nothing, nothing. Everything going all right? Yes, of course, pretty soon.” He turned to the second telephone: “Hello, Security? The Chief's office. Hello, Tikhon Alexeyich — come about four o'clock. Is your wife feeling better? Yes — yes — all right.” Great stuff! He looked long and eagerly at the direct Moscow connection, but could think of nothing urgent to tell the Kremlin; yet he put his hand on the receiver (suppose I call the Central Plan Commission about trucks?), but then did not dare. In times past the telephone had been a wonder to him, a magical instrument; awkward about using it, he had long feared it, losing far too much of his self-assurance in the presence of the little black cylinder of the receiver. Now that all its terrifying magic was placed at his service, he saw it as a symbol of power. The little local committees came to fear his calls. His imperious voice burst from the receiver: “Makeyev speaking.” It was an almost unintelligible roar. “That you, Ivanov? More lapses, eh? I won't have it … immediate sanctions … Give you twenty-four hours! …” He preferred to act these scenes before a few deferential colleagues. The blood rose to his heavy face, his broad, conical, shaven skull. The reprimand delivered, he slammed down the receiver, stared into space like an angry beast of prey, pretending to see no one, opened a dossier, ostensibly to calm himself. (But it was all only an inner rite.) Woe to the Party member under investigation whose personal dossier fell into Makeyev's hands at such a moment! In less than a minute he infallibly discovered the weak point in the case: “Claims to be the son of poor peasants, was actually the son of a deacon.” The genuine son of landless peasants laughed harshly, and wrote in the column reserved for suggested action: “exp.” (expulsion) followed by an implacableM., all in heavy blue pencil. He had a disconcerting faculty of remembering such dossiers, fishing them out from among a hundred others to confirm his decision a year and a half later, when the file, swelled by a dozen reports, came back from Moscow. If the Central Control Commission happened to favor keeping the poor wretch in the Party “with a solemn warning,” Makeyev was even capable of renewing his opposition with Machiavellian ingenuity. The C.C.C. was well aware of these cases, and indulgently supposed that Makeyev was settling personal accounts — no one had the least idea of the absolute impartiality of the rages which he put on for the sake of his prestige. Only one of the C.C.C. secretaries occasionally permitted himself to override these decisions of Makeyev's — Tulayev. “One down for Makeyev,” he muttered into his thick mustache as he ordered the reinstatement of the expelled member whom neither he nor Makeyev had ever seen or would ever see. On the rare occasions when they met in Moscow, Tulayev, who was a bigger man than Makeyev, addressed him genially in the familiar form, though at the same time calling him “comrade,” to indicate that not all Bolsheviks were equal. Tulayev discerned Makeyev's value. Basically the two men were much alike, though Tulayev was better educated, more adaptable, and more blasé about exercising power (as chief clerk to a substantial Volga merchant, he had taken courses at a commercial school). Tulayev was embarked on a bigger career. He once plunged Makeyev into unbearable embarrassment by reporting to a meeting that the last May Day procession at Kurgansk had included no less than 137 large or small portraits of Comrade Makeyev, Regional Secretary, and then going on to mention the official opening of a Makeyev Day Nursery in a Kazak village which had soon after emigrated in a body to newer pastures … Crushed by the laughter, Makeyev rose and stood looking into the sea of hilarious faces, his eyes full of tears, his voice half choked, demanding the floor … He did not get it, for a member of the Political Bureau came in, wearing an elegantly tailored workman's blouse, and the whole assembly rose for the ritual seven-to-eight-minute ovation. After the meeting Tulayev sought out Makeyev: “That was a pretty good trouncing I gave you, eh, brother? But don't let a little thing like that make you angry. If you get the chance, come back at me as hard as you like. Have a drink?” Those were the good old times of rough-and-ready brotherhood.

In those days the Party was turning over a new leaf. No more heroes — what was needed was good administrators, practical unromantic men. No more venturesome spurts of international or planetary or name-your-own-adjective revolution — we must think of ourselves, build Socialism for ourselves, in our own country. A renovation of cadres, opening the way to second-rank men, rejuvenated the Republic. Makeyev took part in the purges, acquired a reputation as a practical man devoted to the “general line,” learned the official phrases which bring peace to the soul, and was able to recite them for an hour by the clock. It was with strange emotion that he one day received a visit from Kasparov. The former Commissar of the Steppes Division, the leader of the fiery Civil War days, quietly entered the Regional Secretary's office, without knocking or sending in his name, about three o'clock one torrid summer afternoon. A Kasparov who had aged and grown thinner, in a white blouse and cap. “You!” Makeyev exclaimed, and flew to embrace his visitor, kissed him, clasped him to his chest. Kasparov gave the impression of being light. They sat down facing each other in the deep armchairs, and now a feeling of uneasiness extinguished their joy. “Well,” said Makeyev, who did not know what to say, “where are you bound in that outfit?” Kasparov's face looked tense and severe, as it used to look when they camped on the Orenburg steppes, or during the Crimean campaign, or at Perekop … He looked at Makeyev impenetrably; perhaps he was judging him. Makeyev felt uncomfortable. “Appointed by the C.C.,” said Kasparov, “to be director of river transport in the Far East …” Makeyev instantly computed the extent of this disgrace: distant exile, a purely economic position, whereas a Kasparov could have governed Vladivostok or Irkutsk, at the very least.

“And you?” said Kasparov, with something of melancholy in his tone.

To shake off his uneasiness, Makeyev stood up — herculean, massive, shaven-skulled. Sweat stains showed on his blouse.

“I'm building,” he said cheerfully. “Come and see.” He took Kasparov to the Plan Commission's map — irrigation canals, brickworks, railway yard, schools, baths, stud farms. “Just look at that — you can see the country growing under your eyes, in twenty years we'll be up with the U.S.A. I believe it because I am in the thick of it.” His voice rang a little false and he noticed it. It was the voice in which he made official speeches … With a barely sketched gesture, Kasparov waved aside the vain words, the economic plans, his old comrade's simulated joy — and that was just what Makeyev obscurely feared. Kasparov said:

“All that is fine. But the Party is at the crossroads. The fate of the Revolution is being decided, brother.”

By the greatest of luck, the telephone began buzzing shrilly at that moment. Makeyev gave some orders relative to nationalized trade. Then, taking his turn at dismissing what he preferred to overlook, he spread his broad, plump hands in a conclusive gesture, and, with a guileless look:

“In this country, old man, everything has been decided once and for all. The general line — I don't see any other way. I'm going ahead. Come back here in two or three years, and you won't recognize the town or the district. A new world, old man, a new America! A young Party that doesn't know what fear is, full of confidence. Will you come and review the Young Communist sports parade with me this evening? You'll see!”

Kasparov shook his head evasively. Another played-out Thermidorian, a fine administrative animal who could glibly recite the four hundred current ideological phrases that obviated thinking, seeing, feeling, and even remembering, even suffering the least remorse when you did the vilest things! There were both irony and despair in the little smile that lighted Kasparov's lined face. Makeyev bristled in the presence of feelings utterly foreign to his nature but which he nevertheless divined.

“Yes, yes, of course,” said Kasparov in a peculiar tone. He appeared to make himself at ease, unbuttoned the neck of his shirt, threw his cap into one of the armchairs, sat down comfortably in another with his legs crossed:

“A nice office you have here — for whatever that's worth — very nice. But beware of bureaucratic comfort, Artyemich. It's a slough — a man can drown in it.”

Was he trying to be deliberately disagreeable? Makeyev lost a little of his assurance. Kasparov looked at him judicially out of his strange gray eyes, which were calm in danger, calm in excitement.

“Artyemich, I have been thinking things over. Our plans are 50 to 60 per cent impossible to carry out. To carry them out to the extent of the remaining 40 per cent, the real wages of the working class will have to be reduced below the level they reached under the Imperial Government — far below the present level even in backward capitalist countries … Have you thought about that? I fear not. In six months at most, we shall have to declare war on the peasants and begin shooting them down — as sure as two and two make four. Shortage of industrial goods, plus depreciation of the ruble — or, to put it frankly, hidden inflation; low grain prices imposed by the state, natural resistance on the part of grain owners — you know how it goes. Have you considered the consequences?”


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Makeyev had too much sense of reality to demur, but he was afraid someone in the hall might hear such words spoken in his office — words of sacrilege, challenging the Chief's doctrine, challenging everything! They cut him, they troubled him: he became aware that it required his most conscious effort to keep himself from speaking the same terrible language. Kasparov went on:

“I am neither a coward nor a bureaucrat, I know what duty to the Party is. What I am saying to you, I have written to the Political Bureau, with figures to support it. Thirty of us signed it — all survivors of Czarist prisons, of Taman, Perekop, Kronstadt … Can you guess how they answered us? As for me, I was first sent to inspect the schools in Kazakistan, which have neither teachers nor buildings nor books nor pencils … Now I am being sent to count barges at Krasnoyarsk — which is all the same to me. But that this criminal stupidity should be continued for the pleasure of a hundred thousand bureaucrats too lazy to realize that they are headed for their own destruction and are dragging the Revolution with them — that isnotall the same to me. And you, old man, hold an honorable rank in the hierarchy of those hundred thousand. I rather suspected it. I sometimes asked myself: What is going to become of old Makeyich, if he isn't a down-and-out drunk by now?”

Makeyev walked nervously back and forth from map to map. Kasparov's words, his ideas, his very presence, were becoming intolerably distressing — it was as if he suddenly felt dirty from head to foot because of those words, of those ideas, of Kasparov. The four telephones, the smallest details of the office, began to look odious. And anger was no way out — why? In a tired voice he answered:

“Let's talk about something else. You know I am not an economist. I carry out the Party's directives, that's all — today, just as I used to in the Army with you. And you taught me to obey for the Revolution. What more can I do? Come and have dinner at my house later. I have a new wife, you know — Alia Sayidovna, a Tatar. You'll come?”

Under the indifferent tone, Kasparov read an entreaty: Show me that you still think enough of me to sit down at my table with my new wife — that's all I ask of you. Kasparov put on his cap, stood at the window for a moment humming to himself and looking out into the public garden (a gravel disk flooded with sunshine; a little dark bronze bust exactly in the center of it). “Right — see you this evening, Artyemich. A fine town you have here …” — “Isn't it?” Makeyev answered quickly, feeling intensely relieved. Below them Lenin's bronze cranium gleamed like polished stone. It was a good dinner, nicely served by Alia. She was short and plump, with a sleek animal grace: clean, well-fed; bluish-black hair twined over her temples, doe eyes, a profile of soft curves, all the lines of her face and body melting into each other. Ancient Iranian gold coins hung at her ears, her fingernails were painted pomegranate red. She served Kasparov to pilau, juicy watermelon, real tea — “you can't find it anywhere any more,” she said pleasantly. Kasparov refrained from confessing that he had not eaten such a good meal for six months. He exhibited himself in his most amiable light, told the only three stories he knew (which he privately referred to as his “three little stories for inane evenings”) and showed none of the exasperation aroused in him by her little laugh, which displayed her white teeth and arched her round breasts, and by Makeyev's self-satisfied guffaws; he even went so far as to congratulate them on their happiness. “You ought to have a canary, in a big, pretty cage — it's just the thing for a nice, homelike place …” Makeyev was very nearly aware of the sarcasm, but Alia exploded: “Just what I've been saying, comrade. Ask Artyem if I haven't!” When they parted, the two men sensed that they would not meet again — unless as enemies.

An ill-omened visit: for soon after it, troubles began. The Party and administrative purges were just completed, under Makeyev's energetic leadership. In the offices of Kurgansk there remained but a small percentage of old-timers — that is, of men formed in the storms of the past ten years. Tendencies — whether Left (Trotskyist), Right (Rykov-Tomsky-Bukharin), or Pseudo-Loyalist (Zinoviev-Kamenev) — appeared to be thoroughly wiped out, though actually they were not entirely so, for wisdom advised laying something aside for the future. But grain was not coming in satisfactorily. In accordance with messages from the C.C., Makeyev visited the villages, broadcast promises and threats, had himself photographed surrounded by muzhiks, women, and children, got up several parades of enthusiastic farmers who were turning over all their wheat to the state. The carts entered the city in procession, laden with sacks and accompanied by red flags, transparencies proclaiming a single-hearted devotion to the Party, portraits of the Chief and portraits of Comrade Makeyev, carried like banners by the village lads and girls. There was a fine holiday feeling about these manifestations. The Executive of the regional Soviet sent the orchestra of the Railwaymen's Club to meet the parades; moving-picture photographers, summoned from Moscow by telephone, arrived by plane to film one of the Red convoys, and the entire U.S.S.R. later saw it on the screen. Makeyev received it, standing on a truck, shouting sonorously: “Honor to the farmers of a happy land!” The evening of the same day he stayed in his office late into the night, conferring with the President of the Executive of the Soviet and an envoy extraordinary from the C.C. The situation was becoming serious: insufficient reserves, insufficient receipts, the certainty of a reduction in cropping, an illicit rise in market prices, a wave of speculation. The envoy extraordinary announced draconian measures to be applied “with an iron hand.” “Certainly,” said Makeyev, afraid to understand.

So began the black years. First expropriated, then deported, some seven per cent of the farmers left the region in cattle cars amid the cries, tears, and curses of urchins and disheveled women and old men mad with rage. Fields lay fallow, cattle disappeared, people ate the oil cake intended for the stock, there was no more sugar or gasoline, leather or shoes, cloth or clothes, everywhere there was hunger on impenetrable white faces, everywhere pilfering, collusion, sickness; in vain did Security decimate the bureaus of animal husbandry, agriculture, transport, food control, sugar production, distribution … The C.C. recommended raising rabbits. Makeyev had placards posted: “The rabbit shall be the cornerstone of proletarian diet.” And the local government rabbits — his own — were the only ones in the district which did not die at the outset, because they were the only ones which were fed. “Even rabbits have to eat before they are eaten,” Makeyev observed ironically. The collectivization of agriculture extended over 82 per cent of family units, “so great is the Socialist enthusiasm among the peasants of the region” wrotePravdaand at the same time published a picture of Comrade Makeyev, “the fighting organizer of this rising tide.” No one stayed out of the kolkhozes except isolated peasants whose houses slumbered far from roads, a few villages populated by Mennonites, a village where there was resistance from an old partisan from the Irtysh, who had twice been decorated with the Order of the Red Flag, had known Lenin, and for that reason was not arrested … Meanwhile a meat-canning factory was built, equipped with the latest-model American machinery and supplemented by a tannery, a shoe factory, and a factory to make special leathers for the army: it was finished the year meat and hides disappeared. Further building included comfortable houses for the Party leaders and technicians and a workers' garden city not far from the lifeless factory … Makeyev faced everything, actually fought “on three fronts” to carry out the C.C.'s orders, fulfill the industrialization plan, keep the earth from dying. Where to find seasoned wood for building, nails, leather, work clothes, bricks, cement? There was a perpetual lack of materials, the starving workmen were perpetually stealing or running away — the great builder found himself with nothing on hand but papers, circulars, reports, orders, theses, official predictions, texts of denunciatory speeches, motions voted by the shock brigades. Makeyev telephoned, jumped into his Ford (now as battered as a General Staff car in the old days), arrived unheralded at a building site; counted the barrels of cement and sacks of lime himself, frowning fiercely; questioned the engineers: some of whom defied truth by swearing to build even without wood and bricks, others by demonstrating that it was impossible to build with such cement. Makeyev wondered whether they were not all in a conspiracy to destroy himself and the Union. But basically he knew, he felt, that all they said was true. His brief case under his arm, his cap on the back of his head, Makeyev had himself driven at full speed through woods and plains to the “Hail Industrialization” kolkhoze, which had not a horse left, where the last cows were dying for lack of fodder, where thirty bales of hay had recently been stolen at night, perhaps to feed horses which had been reported dead but were really hidden in the dreaming forest of Chertov-Rog, “The Devil's Horn.” The kolkhoze looked deserted, two Young Communists from the city lived there amid general hostility and hypocrisy; the president, so helpless that he blurted unintelligibly, explained to “Comrade Secretary of the Regional Committee” that the children were all sick from undernourishment, that he must have at least a truckload of potatoes immediately so that field work could be resumed, since the rations allocated by the State at the end of the previous year (a year of scarcity) had been two months short — “just as we said, don't you remember?” Makeyev grew angry, promised, threatened, both uselessly, overwhelmed by a dull despair … The same old story, over and over, over and over — it kept him awake at night. The land was going to ruin, the livestock was dying, the people were dying, the Party was suffering from a sort of scurvy, Makeyev saw even the roads dying — the roads over which no wagons any longer passed, the roads over which grass was spreading …

So hated by the inhabitants that he never went out on foot in the city except when he was forced to, and then accompanied by a guard who walked three feet behind him with his hand on his holster, he carried a cane himself to ward off aggressors. He had a fence built around his house, had it guarded by soldiers. Things suddenly came to a head in the third year of scarcity, the day when Moscow telephoned him a confidential order to begin a new purge of the kolkhozes before the autumn sowing, in order to cut down secret resistance. “Who signed this decision?” — “Comrade Tulayev, third secretary of the C.C.” Makeyev dryly said: “Thank you,” hung up, and struck the desk with his fist. Into his brain rose a wave of hate against Tulayev, Tulayev's long mustaches, Tulayev's broad face, Tulayev the heartless bureaucrat, Tulayev the starver of the people … That evening Alia Sayidovna opened the door to a surly Makeyev, a Makeyev who looked like a bulldog. He very seldom talked to her about business; but he often talked aloud to himself, because under emotional pressure silent thinking was difficult for him. Alia, with her soft sleek profile, with the gold coins dangling from the lobes of her pretty ears, heard him muttering: “I won't stand for another famine — not me. We've paid our share, old man, and that's enough. I won't play up any longer. The district can't stand any more. The roads are dying! No, no, no, no! I'll write to the C.C.”

He did write, after a sleepless night, a night of agony. For the first time in his life, Makeyev refused to carry out an order from the C.C., denounced it as error, madness, crime. He felt he was saying too much, then again that he was saying too little. When he reread what he had written, terrified at his own audacity, he told himself that he would have demanded the expulsion and arrest of anyone who dared to criticize a Party directive in such terms. But the fields overrun with weeds, the roads overrun with grass, the children with their bellies swollen from starvation, the empty shops of nationalized retail commerce, the black looks of the peasants, were there, really there. One after the other he tore up several drafts. Hot and uneasy, Alia tossed feverishly in the big bed; she attracted him only rarely now, a little female who would never understand. His memorandum on the necessity for postponing or annulling the Tulayev circular regarding the new purge of kolkhozes was dispatched the next morning. Makeyev had a violent headache, drifted from room to room, in his slippers and half-dressed, behind the wooden blinds which were closed against the torrid heat. Alia brought him small glasses of vodka, pickled cucumbers, tall glasses of water so cold that vapor condensed on them in drops. He was red-eyed from lack of sleep, his face was unshaven, he smelled of sweat … “You ought to take a trip somewhere, Artyem,” Alia suggested. “It would do you good.” He became aware of her; the hallucinating midafternoon heat made a furnace of the city, the plains, the surrounding steppes, poured through the walls of the house, flamed in his numb veins. Hardly three steps separated him from Alia, who fell back, tottered beside the divan, was thrown down, felt Artyem's dry hands knead her fiercely from neck to knees, felt his suffocating mouth press down on her mouth, felt him rip her silk kaftan, which would not unfasten quickly enough, felt him bruise her legs, which had not opened quickly enough … “Alia, you are as downy as a peach,” said Makeyev as he rose refreshed. “Now the C.C. will see who's right, that numskull Tulayev or me!” For a moment, possessing his wife gave him the feeling of conquering the universe.

Makeyev fought a losing battle with Tulayev for two weeks. Accused by his powerful antagonist of tending toward the “Right opportunist deviation,” he saw himself on the brink of the abyss. Figures and several sentences from his memorandum, quoted to denounce “the incoherencies of the Political Bureau's agrarian policy” and the “fatal blindness of certain functionaries,” appeared in a document probably drawn up by Bukharin and delivered to the Control Commission by an informer. Makeyev, seeing that he was lost, abjured instantly and passionately. The Politburo and the Orgburo (Organization Bureau) decided to maintain him in his position since he had renounced his errors and was devoting himself to the new purge of kolkhozes with exemplary energy. Far from sparing his own henchmen, he regarded them with such suspicion that several of them found themselves on their way to concentration camps. Putting the burden of his own responsibility upon them, he harshly refused to see them or intercede for them. From the depths of prisons, some of them wrote that they had merely carried out his orders. “The counterrevolutionary irresponsibility of these demoralized elements,” Makeyev commented, “deserves no indulgence. Their only aim is to discredit the Party.” In the end he believed it himself.


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Would not his disagreement with Tulayev be remembered during the election for the Supreme Council? A certain vacillation in the Party committees made Makeyev uneasy. Many voices were raised in favor of candidates who were high Security officials or generals, rather than Communist leaders. Happy day! Official rumor repeated a remark by a member of the Political Bureau: “Makeyev's is the only possible candidacy in the Kurgansk region … Makeyev is a builder.” Immediately transparencies appeared across the streets, urging:Vote for the Builder Makeyev— who, in any case, was the only candidate. At the first session of the Supreme Council, held in Moscow, Makeyev, at the peak of his destiny, ran into Blücher in the anterooms. “Greetings, Artyem,” said the commander-in-chief of the valorous Special Army of the Red Flag in the Far East. Intoxicated, Makeyev answered: “Greetings, Marshal! How are you?” They went to the buffet together, arm in arm like the old comrades they were. Both of them were heavier, their faces full and well-massaged, with fatigue pouches under the eyes, both wore well-cut clothes of fine material, both were decorated — Blücher wore four brilliant medals on his right breast, three Orders of the Red Flag and one Order of Lenin; Makeyev, less heroic, had only one Red Flag and the Medal of Labor … The strange thing was that they had nothing to say to each other. With sincere delight they exchanged phrases from the newspapers: “So you're building, old man? Things going well? Happy? Healthy?” — “So, Marshal, you're keeping the little Japs in order, eh?” — “Right — they can come whenever they're ready!” Deputies from the Siberian North, from Central Asia, from the Caucasus, in their national costumes, flocked to stare at them. In the soldier's reflected glory, Makeyev admired himself. He thought: “We'd make a fine snapshot.” The memory of that memorable moment went sour some months later when, after the fighting in Chang-Ku-Feng, the Army of the Far East regained two hills overlooking Possiet Bay from the Japanese (the two hills turned out to be of enormous strategic importance, though it had never been mentioned before). The message from the C.C. detailing these glorious events did not mention Blücher's name. Makeyev understood, and a chill came over him. He felt himself compromised. Blücher, Blücher — it was his turn to go down into subterranean darkness! Inconceivable! … What luck that no snapshot had immortalized their last meeting!

Makeyev lived quite calmly through the proscriptions, because they wrought havoc chiefly among the generation of power which had preceded his own and among generations even earlier. “By and large, socially the old generation is worn out … So much the worse for them, this is no time for sentiment … Heroes yesterday, failures today — it's the dialectic of history.” But his unspoken thoughts told him that his own generation was rising to replace the generation which was going out. Ordinary men became great men when their day arrived — was that not justice? Although, when they had been in power, he had known and admired a number of the defendants in the great trials, he accepted their end with a sort of zeal. Incapable of comprehending anything but the baldest arguments, he was not troubled by the enormity of the accusations. (We have no time for subtleties!) And what was more natural than to use lies to overwhelm an enemy who must be put out of the way? The demands of mass psychology in a backward country must be met. Called to rule by the subalterns of the one and only Chief, integrated into the power behind the proscriptions, Makeyev had never felt that he was threatened. But now he felt the wind of the inevitable scythe that had mowed down Blücher. Had the Marshal been relieved of his command? Arrested? Would he reappear? He was not being tried, which perhaps meant that all was not over for him. However that might be, no one ever mentioned his name now. Makeyev would have liked to forget it; but the name, the image of the man, pursued him — at work, in his moments of silence, in his sleep. He found himself fearing that, speaking at some meeting of district officials, he would suddenly utter the obsessing name in the middle of a sentence. And the more he put it out of his mind, the more it rose to his lips — to the point where he thought that, reading a message aloud, he had inserted Blücher's name among the names of the members of the Political Bureau … “Didn't I make a slip of the tongue?” he asked one of the Regional Committee members lightly. Inside, he was writhing with anguish.

“No indeed,” said the comrade he had addressed. “Odd that you should think so.”

Makeyev looked at him, seized with a vague terror. “He is making a fool of me …” The two men blushed, equally embarrassed.

“You were most eloquent, Artyem Artyemich,” said the Committee member, to break the uncomfortable silence. “You read the address to the Political Bureau with magnificent fervor …”

Makeyev became completely confused. His thick lips moved silently. He made a wild effort to keep from saying, “Blücher, Blücher, Blücher, do you hear me? I named Blücher!” The other became uneasy:

“Don't you feel well, Comrade Makeyev?”

“A touch of dizziness,” said Makeyev, swallowing saliva.

He got over the crisis, he conquered his obsession, Blücher did not reappear, it was a little more ended every day. There were further disappearances, but of less importance. Makeyev made up his mind to ignore them. “Men like myself have to have hearts of stone. We build on corpses, but we build.”

That year the purges and personnel replacements in the Kurgansk district were not over until the middle of winter. Just before spring, one night in February, Tulayev was killed in Moscow. When Makeyev heard the news, he shouted for joy. Alia was playing solitaire, her body outlined in clinging silk. Makeyev threw down the red “Confidential” envelope.

“There's one that deserved what he got! The fool! It had been coming to him for a long time. A plot? Not much — somebody whose life he was ruining let him have it on the head with a brick … He certainly went out looking for it, with that character of his — a snarling dog …”

“Who?” said Alia, without raising her head, because for the second time the cards had brought the queen of diamonds between herself and the king of hearts.

“Tulayev. I've just heard from Moscow that he has been murdered …”

“My God!” said Alia, preoccupied by the queen of hearts, doubtless a blond woman.

Makeyev said sharply:

“I've told you a hundred times not to call on God like a peasant!”

The cards snapped under the pretty, red-nailed fingers. Irritation. The queen of diamonds confirmed the treacherous hints dropped by the wife of the president of the Soviet (Doroteya Guermanovna, a big, soft woman of German extraction who knew all the scandal of the city for the last ten years) … and the manicurist's skillful reticences … and the fatally precise information that had arrived in the form of an anonymous letter laboriously pieced together out of big letters cut from newspapers — at least four hundred of them had been pasted down one after the other to denounce the ticket girl of the Aurora Cinema, who had previously slept with the director of the municipal services department and who, a year ago, had become Artyem Artyemich's mistress, as witness the fact that she had had an abortion at the G.P.U. clinic last winter, being admitted on a personal recommendation, and then had been given a month's paid vacation, which she spent at the Rest House for Workers in Education, also on special recommendation, and as witness the fact that Comrade Makeyev had twice visited the Rest House during that period and had even spent the night there … The letter went on in this fashion for several pages, all in overlapping, ill-assorted letters which made absurd patterns. Alia looked at Makeyev out of eyes so intent that they became cruel.

“What is it?” asked the man, vaguely uneasy.

“Who was killed?” asked the woman, her face ugly with tension and distress.

“Tulayev, I told you, Tulayev — are you deaf?”

Alia came so close to him that she touched him, and stood pale and straight, her shoulders set, her lips trembling.

“And that blond ticket girl — who's going to kill her? Tell me, you traitor, you liar!”

Makeyev had barely begun to realize what a serious shock the Party was in for: revamping the C.C., accounts to be settled in the bureaus, full-scale attacks on the Right, deadly accusations against the expelled Left, counterattacks — what counterattacks? A vast, whirling wind out of the night drove the quiet daylight from the room, wrapped itself about him, made cold shivers run through his very marrow … Through those terrible, dark gusts, Alia's shaken words, Alia's poor shattered face, hardly reached him. “Get out of here and leave me alone!” he shouted, beside himself.

He was incapable of thinking of big things and little things simultaneously. He shut himself up with his private secretary, to prepare the speech which he would deliver that evening at the extraordinary meeting of Party officials — a bludgeoning speech, shouted from the bottom of his lungs, punctuated with his clenched fist. He spoke as if he were fighting, then and there, singlehanded, against the Enemies of the Party. Men who were Creatures of Darkness; the world Counterrevolution; Trotskyism, its brazen snout branded with the swastika; Fascism; the Mikado … “Woe to the stinking vermin who have dared to raise a hand against our great Party! We shall wipe them out forever, even to the last generation! Eternal remembrance to our great, our wise comrade, Tulayev, iron Bolshevik, unswerving disciple of our beloved Chief, the greatest man of all the centuries! …” At five in the morning, dripping with sweat and surrounded by exhausted secretaries, Makeyev was still correcting the typescript of his speech, which a special messenger, starting two hours later, would carry to Moscow. When he went to bed, bright daylight flooded the city, the plains, the building yards, the caravan trails. Alia had just fallen into a doze after a night of torture. Feeling her husband's presence, she opened her eyes to the white ceiling, to reality, to her suffering. And, almost naked, she got quietly out of bed, and saw herself in the mirror: her hair in disorder, her breasts sagging, herself pale, faded, forsaken, humiliated, looking like an old woman — because of that blond ticket girl at the Aurora. Did she know what she was doing? What did she want in the drawer where the trinkets were kept? She found a short bone-handled hunting knife there, and took it. She went back to the bed. Lying with the sheets thrown off and his dressing gown open, Artyem was sound asleep, his mouth shut, his nostrils ringed with beads of sweat, his big body naked, covered with reddish hair, abandoned … Alia stared at him for a moment, as if it astonished her to recognize him, astonished her even more to discover something utterly unknown in him, something which incessantly escaped her, perhaps an unwonted presence, a soul that was kindled in him in sleep, like a secret light, and which his awakening extinguished. “My God, my God, my God,” she repeated mentally, sensing that a power in her would raise the knife, clench her hand, stab down into that outstretched male body, the male body which she loved in the very depths of her hate. Where aim? Try to find the heart, well protected by an armor of bones and flesh, difficult to reach? Pierce the unprotected belly, where it is easy to make a mortal wound? Tear the penis lying in its fleece of hair — soft flesh, loathsome and touching? The idea — but it was not an idea, it was already the adumbration of an act — traveled darkly through her nerve centers … The dark current encountered another: fear. Alia turned her head, and saw that Makeyev had opened his eyes and was watching her with terrifying sagacity.

“Alia,” he said simply, “drop that knife.”

She was paralyzed. Sitting up in a single motion, he caught her wrist, opened her helpless little hand, flung the bone-handled knife across the room. Alia collapsed into shame and despair, great bright tears hung from her lashes … She felt like a naughty child caught doing something wrong; there was no help anywhere, and now he would cast her off like a sick dog … you drown sick dogs …

“You wanted to kill me?” he said. “To kill Makeyev, secretary of the Regional Committee — and you a member of the Party? Kill the Builder Makeyev, you miserable creature? Kill me for a blond ticket girl, fool that you are?”

Anger rose in him with every clearly spoken word.

“Yes,” said Alia feebly.

“Idiot! They'd have shut you up underground for six months — have you thought of that? Then one night, about 2A.M., they'd have taken you out behind the station and put a bullet there, right there!” (He hit her hard on the back of the neck.) “Don't you know that? Do you want a divorce this morning?”

She said furiously:

“Yes.”

And at the same time, more softly, her long eyelashes lowered: “No.”

“You are a liar and a traitor,” she repeated almost automatically, trying to collect her thoughts. Then she went on:

“Tulayev was killed for less, and you were glad. Yet you helped him to organize the famine — you've said so often enough! But perhaps he didn't lie to a woman, like you!”

They were such terrible words that Makeyev looked at his wife with panic in his eyes. He felt desperately weak. Only his fury saved him from collapsing. He burst out:

“Never! I never said or thought a word of your criminal ravings … You are unworthy of the Party … Bitch!”

He strode about the room, now this way, now that, waving his arms like a madman. Suddenly he came back to her, carrying a leather belt. He gripped the back of her neck with his left hand and struck with his right, beating, beating the almost naked body which writhed feebly under his hand, beating so hard that he panted … When the body stopped moving, when Alia's whimpering breathing seemed to have ceased, Makeyev turned away, pacified. He went for a wad of cotton, soaked it in eau de cologne, came back, and began gently rubbing her face with it — her ravaged face which, in a few moments, had become ugly with a pitiful, little-girl ugliness … Then he went for ammonia, he dampened towels, he was as diligent and skillful as a good nurse … And, when Alia came to, she saw Makeyev's green eyes leaning over her, the pupils narrowed like a cat's eyes … Artyem kissed her face heavily, hotly, then turned away. “Get some sleep, little fool. I'm going to work.”


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Life became normal again for Makeyev, between a silent Alia and the queen of diamonds, whom, for safety's sake, he had sent to the construction yard for the new electric plant, between the plain and the forest, where she was put in charge of handling the mail. The yard operated twenty-four hours a day. The Secretary of the Regional Committee frequently appeared there to stimulate the efforts of the elite brigades, to oversee the execution of the weekly plans in person, to receive reports from the technical personnel, to countersign the daily telegrams to the Center … He came back exhausted, under the clear stars. (Meanwhile, somewhere in the city, unknown hands, laboring in profound secrecy, obstinately cut alphabets of all dimensions from the papers, collected them, aligned them on notebook sheets: it would take at least five hundred characters for the contemplated letter. This patient labor was carried on in solitude, in silence, with every sense alert; the mutilated papers, weighted with a stone, went to the bottom of a well, for burning them would have made smoke — and where there's smoke there's fire, don't they say? The secret hands prepared the demonic alphabet, the unknown mind collected the evidence, the scattered clues, the infinitesimal elements of several hidden and unavowable certainties …)

Makeyev was planning to go to Moscow to thrash out the question of material shortages with the directors of electrification; at the same time he would inform the C.C. and the Central Executive of the progress made during the last six months in road-improvements and irrigation (thanks to cheap convict labor); perhaps this progress would compensate for the dwindling supply of skilled labor, the crisis in livestock, the poor condition of industrialized agriculture, the production slowdown in the railway workshops … With pleasure he received the brief message from the C.C. (“Confidential. Urgent.”) inviting him to attend a conference of regional secretaries from the Southwest. Leaving two days early, Makeyev sat in his blue sleeping-car compartment, contentedly making abstracts of the reports from the regional Economic Council. The specialists of the Central Plan Commission would find he was a man worth talking to! Endless fields of snow, dotted with ramshackle houses, fled past the windows; the wooded horizon was melancholy under the leaden sky, the light filled the white spaces with an immense expectancy. Makeyev looked at the rich black fields which an early thaw had scattered with standing pools that reflected the hurrying clouds. “Indigent Russia, opulent Russia,” he murmured, because Lenin had quoted those two lines of Nekrassov's in 1918. The Makeyevs, by working those fields, made opulence come out of indigence.

At the station in Moscow, Makeyev had no difficulty in getting a C.C. car sent for him, and it was a big American car, strangely elongated and rounded — “streamlined,” explained the chauffeur, who was dressed much like a millionaire's chauffeur in a foreign movie. Makeyev found that many things had changed for the better in the capital since he had been there seven months earlier. Life bustled through a gray transparency, over the new asphalt pavements which were relentlessly cleared of snow day in and day out. The shop-windows made a good impression. At the Central Plan Commission, in a building made of reinforced concrete, glass, and steel, and containing from two to three hundred offices, Makeyev, in accordance with his rank, was received as an extremely important person by elegant officials who wore big spectacles and suits of British cut. He found no difficulty in obtaining what he wanted: materials, additional credits, the return of a dossier to the Projects department, authority to build an additional road. How could he have known that the materials did not exist, and that all these impressive personages no longer had anything but a sort of ghostly existence, since the P.B. had just decided “in principle” upon a purge and complete reorganization of the Plan offices? Well satisfied, he became more important than ever. His plain fur coat, his plain fur cap contrasted with the careful attire of the technicians and made him look all the more the provincial builder. “We who are clearing virgin soil …” He slipped little phrases like that into the conversation, and they did not ring false.

Of the few old friends whom he tried to find the second day, none could be reached. One was ill in a suburban hospital, too far from town; telephoning to two others, he received only evasive answers. On the second occasion, Makeyev got angry. “Makeyev speaking, I tell you. Makeyev of the C.C., do you understand? I want to know where Foma is; I have a right to be told, I imagine …” The man at the other end of the wire answered, in a doubtful voice: “He has been arrested …” Arrested? Foma, Bolshevik of 1904, loyal to the general line, former member of the Central Control Commission, member of Security's special college? Makeyev gasped for breath, a spasm passed over his face, for a moment he felt stunned. What was happening now?

He decided to spend the evening alone, at the opera. Entering the great government box (once the imperial box) soon after the curtain went up, he found no one there but an old couple, sitting at the left in the first row of chairs. Makeyev discreetly greeted Popov, one of the Party's directors of conscience, an untidy little old man with a vague profile and a yellowish straggling beard. He had on a gray tunic that sagged around the pockets. His companion looked amazingly like him; it seemed to Makeyev that she barely returned his greeting and even avoided looking at him. Popov crossed his arms on the velvet of the balustrade, coughed, thrust out his lips, entirely absorbed by the performance. Makeyev sat down at the other end of the row. The empty chairs increased the distance between himself and the Popovs; even if they had sat close together, the huge box would have surrounded them with solitude. Makeyev could not make himself take an interest either in the stage or the music, though music usually intoxicated him like a drug, filling his whole being with emotion, filling his mind with disconnected images, now violent, now plaintive, filling his throat with abortive cries, with sighs or a sort of wailing. He assured himself that all was well, that it was one of the finest spectacles in the world, even though it belonged to the culture of the old regime — but we are the legitimate heirs of that culture, we have conquered it. Then, too, those dancers, those lovely dancers — why should he not desire them? (Desire was another of his ways of forgetting.)

When the intermission began, the Popovs left so discreetly that only his increased solitude in the huge box made him aware that they had gone. For a moment he stood looking at the house, brilliant with lights and evening dresses and uniforms. “Our Moscow, capital of the world.” Makeyev smiled. As he made his way to the lobby, an officer — spectacles, neat square-cut mustache, a little curved nose like an owl's beak — bowed to him most respectfully. Makeyev returned his bow, then stopped him with a gesture. The officer introduced himself:

“Captain Pakhomov, commanding the building police, happy to be of service to you, Comrade Makeyev.”

Flattered at being recognized, Makeyev felt like embracing him. His strange solitude vanished.

“Ah, so you have just arrived, Comrade Makeyev,” said Pakhomov slowly, as if he were thinking; “then you haven't seen our new scene-shifting machines, bought in New York and installed last November. You ought to take a look at them — they made Meyerhold open his eyes! Shall I expect you after the third act, to show you the way?”

Before answering, Makeyev nonchalantly inquired:

“Tell me, Captain Pakhomov — the little dancer in the green turban, the one who's so graceful — who is she?”

Pakhomov's owl face and nocturnal eyes brightened a little:

“Very talented, Comrade Makeyev — getting a great deal of notice. Paulina Ananiyeva. I'll introduce you to her in her dressing room, Comrade Makeyev — she will be very happy to meet you — oh, certainly …”

And now good riddance to you, Popov, you old moralist, you old crab — you and your antique wife who looks like a plucked turkey. What do you know about the life of strong men, builders, outdoor men, men who fight? Under floors, in cellars, rats gnaw at strange fodder — and you, you eat dossiers, complaints, circulars, theses, which the great Party throws at you in your office, and so it will go on until you are buried with greater honors than you ever knew in your miserable life! Makeyev leaned forward and almost turned his back on the disagreeable couple. Where should he take Paulina? To the Metropole bar? Paulina … nice name for a mistress. Paulina … Would she let herself be tempted tonight? Paulina … Makeyev's feeling, as he waited for the intermission, was almost blissful.

Captain Pakhomov was waiting for him at the turn in the great staircase. “First, Comrade Makeyev, I'll show you the new machines; then we'll go to see Ananiyeva — she's expecting you …”

“Splendid, splendid …”

Makeyev followed the officer through a maze of corridors, each more brightly lighted than the last. Pushing back a curtain to his left, the officer pointed to mechanics busy around a winch; young men in blue blouses were sweeping the stage; a technician appeared, pushing a little searchlight on wheels. “Fascinating, isn't it?” said the owl-faced officer. Makeyev, his head empty of everything except the expectation of a woman, said: “The magic of the theater, my dear comrade …” They went on. A metal door opened before them, closed behind them, they were in darkness. “What's this?” the officer exclaimed. “Stay where you are, just for a moment, Comrade Makeyev, I …” It was cold. The darkness lasted only a few seconds, but when a wretched little backstage bulb came on, like the light in a forsaken waiting room or in the antechamber of a dilapidated Hell, Pakhomov was no longer there; instead, several black overcoats detached themselves from the opposite wall, someone rapidly advanced on Makeyev — a thickset man with his overcoat collar turned up, his cap pulled down to his eyes, his hands in his pockets. Very close now, the voice of the unknown murmured, distinctly:

“Artyem Artyemich, we don't want any scenes. You are under arrest.”

Several overcoats surrounded him, pressed against him; skillful hands ran over him, pushed him about, fished out his revolver … Makeyev gave a violent start which almost freed him from all the hands, from all the shoulders, but they closed in, nailed him to the spot:

“We don't want any scenes, Comrade Makeyev,” the persuasive voice repeated. “Everything will be all right, I am sure — there must be some misunderstanding. Just obey orders …” Then, to the others: “No noise!”

Makeyev let himself be led, almost carried. They put on his overcoat, two men took him by the arms, others preceded and followed him, and so they walked through formless semidarkness, like a single creature clumsily moving a profusion of legs. The narrow corridor squeezed them together, they stumbled over each other. Behind a thin partition the orchestra began to play with miraculous sweetness. Somewhere in the meadows, beside a silvery lake, thousands of birds greeted the dawn, the light increased instant by instant, a song rose into it, a pure woman's voice sounded through the unearthly morning … “Easy there, watch out for the steps,” someone whispered into Makeyev's ear … and there was no more dawn, no more song, there was nothing … nothing but the cold night, a black car, the unimaginable …

5. Journey into Defeat

Before reaching Barcelona, Ivan Kondratiev underwent several standard transformations. First he was Mr. Murray Barron, of Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A., photographer for the World Photo Press, traveling from Stockholm to Paris by way of London … He took a taxi to the Champs-Elysées, then, carrying his little brown valise, strolled about for a while between the Rue Marbeuf and the Grand Palais; he was seen to stop before the Clemenceau disguised as an old soldier who trudges along a block of stone at the corner in front of the Petit Palais. The bronze froze the old man's drive, and it was perfect: so a man walks when he is at the end of his resources, when all his strength is gone. “For how much longer has your stubbornness saved a dying world, old man? Perhaps you only bored a deeper hole in the rock for the mine that will blow it up?” — “I messed things up for the bastards for fifty years,” the man of bronze muttered bitterly. Kondratiev looked at him with secret sympathy. Two hours later Mr. Murray Barron came out of a monastic-looking house near St.-Sulpice, still carrying his brown valise but now transformed into Mr. Waldemar Laytis, Latvian citizen, on a mission to Spain from his country's Red Cross. From Toulouse an Air-France plane, flying over landscapes bathed in happy light, the rusty summits of the Pyrenees, sleeping Figueras, the hills of Catalonia tanned like a beautiful skin, carried Mr. Waldemar Laytis to Barcelona. The officer representing the International Non-Intervention Board, a meticulous Swede, must have thought that the Red Cross organizations of the several Baltic States were displaying a laudable activity in the Peninsula: Mr. Laytis was certainly the fifth or sixth delegate they had dispatched to observe the effects of bombing on open cities. Ivan Kondratiev, noticing that the officer looked rather hard at his passport, merely made a mental note that the liaison office must be overdoing the trick. At the Prat airfield a podgy colonel, wearing glasses, complimented Mr. Laytis in unctuous tones, led him to a handsome car which displayed a few elegant shot scratches, and said to the driver: “Vaya, amigo.” Ivan Kondratiev, emissary of a strong and victorious revolution, felt that he was entering a very sickly one.

“The situation?”

“Fair. I mean, not entirely desperate … We are counting heavily on you. A Greek ship under British colors sunk last night off the Balearic Islands: munitions, bombings, artillery fire, the usual confusion …No importa. Rumors of concentrations in the Ebro region.Es todo.”

“Internal affairs? The Anarchists? The Trotskyists?”

“The Anarchists are ready to listen to reason — probably on the way out …”


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“Since they will listen to reason,” Kondratiev said mildly.

“The Trotskyists are practically all in prison …”

“Very good. But you took a long time about it,” said Kondratiev severely, and something in him became tense.

Illuminated with sumptuous softness by a late-afternoon sun, a city opened before him, stamped with the same banally infernal seal as many other cities. The plaster of the low pink or red houses was scaling off; windows yawned, their glass gone; here and there were bricks smudged with black from fires, shopwindows barricaded with planks. Fifty patient chattering women waited at the door of a wrecked store. Kondratiev recognized them by their earthy complexions, their drawn faces — he had seen them before, equally wretched, equally patient and talkative, on sunny days and gray days, at shop doors in Petrograd, Kiev, Odessa, Irkutsk, Vladivostok, Leipzig, Hamburg, Canton, Chang-sha, Wu-han. Women waiting for potatoes, sour bread, rice, the last sugar, must be as necessary to the social transformation as the speeches of leaders, the secret executions, the absurd passwords. Overhead expenses. The car jolted as if they were on a street in Central Asia. Villas among gardens. Through the trees, a view of a white façade pierced by great holes through which the blue sky showed …

“What percentage of houses damaged?”

“No sé. Not so many,” the podgy colonel answered nonchalantly; he appeared to be chewing gum, but he was chewing nothing — it was a nervous habit.

In the patio of a once-luxurious mansion in Sarria, Ivan Kondratiev smilingly distributed handshakes. The fountain seemed to be softly laughing to itself, squat columns supported vaults under which the cool shade was blue. A little stream trickled through a marble channel, a faint, distant rapping of typewriters mingled with its silken rustle, and left it unperturbed. Close-shaven and dressed in a brand-new Republican uniform, Kondratiev had become General Rudin. “Rudin?” exclaimed a high Foreign Affairs official. “But haven't I met you before? At Geneva, perhaps, at the League of Nations?” The Russian unbent a little, but very little. “I have never been in Geneva, señor, but you may have encountered a person of the same name in one of Turgenev's novels …” “Of course,” said the high official. “Turgenev is almost a classic in Spain, you know …” “I am delighted to hear it,” Rudin answered politely. He was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

These Spaniards shocked him. They were likable, childish, full of ideas, plans, complaints, confidential information, unconcealed suspicions, secrets scattered to the four winds by warm, musical voices. And not one of them had actually read Marx (a few had the effrontery to say that they had, knowing so little about Marxism that they were unaware that three sentences were enough to prove them liars), not one of them would have made even a mediocre agitator in a second-rate industrial center like Zaporozhe. Furthermore, they considered that Soviet matériel was arriving in insufficient quantities, that the trucks were badly built. According to them, the situation was becoming untenable everywhere, but then the next minute they proposed a plan for victory; some advocated a European war; Anarchists insisted upon restoring discipline, establishing the sternest order, provoking foreign intervention; bourgeois Republicans thought the Anarchists too moderate and obliquely accused the Communists of being too conservative; the Syndicalists of the C.N.T. said that the Catalan U.G.T. (Communist controlled) had been stuffed with at least a hundred thousand counterrevolutionaries and semi-fascists; the leaders of the Barcelona U.G.T. declared that they were ready to break with the Valencia-Madrid U.G.T., they saw Anarchist intrigues everywhere; the Communists despised every other party, at the same time treating all the bourgeois parties with the greatest politeness; they seemed to fear the phantom organization of the Amigos de Durutti, yet insisted that there was no such thing; neither were there any Trotskyists, but they were always being hunted down, they rose inexplicably from the most thoroughly trodden ashes in secret prisons; general staffs rejoiced over the death of some Lerida partisan shot from behind on the firing line, on his way to get rations for his comrade; a captain of the Karl Marx Division was congratulated on his loyalty when he skilfully invented a pretext for executing an old workman who belonged to the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista — that pestilential organization. Accounts were never settled; it took years to get up a shaky case against generals who, in the U.S.S.R., would have been instantly shot without a trial; and, even so, there was never any certainty of finding a sufficient number of understanding judges who, after examining a set of false documents manufactured with incredible carelessness, would send the culprits to end their days in the moats of Montjuich at the shining hour when bird songs fill the new morning. “It is our own staff of forgers who should have been shot to begin with,” said Rudin angrily as he looked through the dossier. “Can't these fools understand that a false document must at leastlooklike a real document? Stuff like this will never convince anybody but intellectuals who have already had their pay …”

“The forgers we had at the beginning have almost all been shot, but it didn't do any good,” replied the Bulgarian Yuvanov, in the extremely discreet voice which was one of his characteristics.

He explained, with profound irony, that, in this country of brilliant sunlight, where nothing is ever quite precise, where burning facts are modified in accordance with their degree of heat, forgeries never quite jelled; unexpected obstacles were always turning up; the dregs of the earth would suddenly be smitten with consciences that raged like the toothache, sentimental drunkards suddenly blabbed, the general lack of order would bring the authentic documents out of the general hodgepodge, the examining magistrates would blunder, the excise officer would blush and hide his face from an old friend who called him a swindler, and, to top it all, a deputy from the Independent Labour Party would arrive from London, dressed in a very old gray suit, thin, bony, ugly as only the British can be ugly, clamping his pipe between pure Stone Age jaws, and obstinately, automatically demanding “What has come of the investigation into the disappearance of Andres Nin?” The ministers — a strange lot too! — would earnestly implore him, before a dozen people, to deny “these calumnious rumors which outrage the Republic,” and when they were alone with him would clap him on the back and say: “Those bastards got him, but what can we do about it? After all, we can't fight without the arms Russia is sending. Do you think we are safe ourselves?” Not one of these governmental dignitaries would have been worthy of a minor job in secret service, not even those who were Party members: they talked too much. A Communist minister, using a transparent pseudonym, wrote a newspaper article accusing a Socialist colleague of being sold to the London bankers … At a café the old Socialist commented on his skulking colleague's prose. His ponderous triple chin, his heavy jowls, and even his dark eyelids shook with laughter: “Sold,yo!And the blind dupes have the gall to say so when they are sold to Moscow themselves — and paid with Spanish money, by the way!” The remark struck home. Yuvanov concluded his report: “They are all incapable. The masses are magnificent, nevertheless.” He sighed: “But what trouble they cause!”

Yuvanov's square shoulders were surmounted by the face of a dangerously serious fop: wavy hair plastered down on a thick skull, the crafty eyes of a lion tamer, a mustache carefully trimmed to meet the upper lip, accentuating it in bold black. Kondratiev felt an inexplicable antipathy to him, which grew more definite as they went over the list of visitors to be received. The Bulgarian several times indicated his disapproval by slightly shrugging his shoulders. And the three whom he wanted to strike from the list turned out to be the most interesting — at least it was from them that Kondratiev learned the most.

For several days he never left his two white, sparsely furnished rooms except to walk up and down in the patio consuming cigarettes — especially after dark, under the stars. The stenographers, relegated to the annex, continued clattering at their typewriters. Not a sound came from the city, the bats circled noiselessly in the air. Wearied with reports on supplies, fronts, divisions, air units, plots, the personnel of the S.I.M., of the censorship bureau, of the navy, of the presidential secretariat, reports on the clergy, Party expenditures, personal cases, the C.N.T., the machinations of English spies, and so forth, Kondratiev became aware of the stars, which he had always wanted to study but even the names of which he did not know. (Because, during the only periods in his life when he had had time to study and think — in sundry prisons — he had been debarred both from books on astronomy and from nocturnal walks.) Yet, properly considered, the stars in their multitudes have no names as they have no number, they have only their faint mysterious light — mysterious because of human ignorance. I shall die without ever knowing more about them. Such are men in this age, “divided from themselves,” torn, as Marx put it — even the professional revolutionary in whom consciousness of the historical process attains its most practical lucidity. Divided from the stars, divided from themselves? Kondratiev refused to consider the strange formula which had come into his mind in the midst of useful thinking. As soon as you relax a little, your mind starts wandering, your old literary education revives, you could easily become sentimental, even though you are over fifty. He went in, returned to the artillery invoice, the annotated list of nominations for the Madrid Military Investigation Service, the photostats of the personal letters received by Don Manuel Azaña, President of the Republic, the abstract of the telephone conversations of Don Indalecio Prieto, Minister of War and the Navy, a most embarrassing person … By candlelight, during a power breakdown caused by a night bombing of the port, he received the first of the visitors whom Yuvanov had wanted to strike from the list, a Socialist lieutenant colonel, a lawyer before the Civil War, of bourgeois background — a tall, thin young man with a yellow face which his smile etched into ugly lines. He spoke intelligently, and his remarks were full of unequivocal reproaches.

“I have brought you a detailed report, my dear comrade.” (In the heat of conversation, he sometimes let fall a perfidious “my dear friend.”) “In the Sierra we never had more than twelve cartridges per man … The Aragon front was not defended; it could have been made impregnable in two weeks; I sent out twenty-seven letters on the subject, six of them to your compatriots … Air arm entirely insufficient. In short, we are losing the war — make no mistake about that, my dear friend.”

“What do you mean?” interrupted Kondratiev, chilled by the precise statement.

“What I say, my dear comrade. If we are not to be given matériel to fight with, we must be allowed to treat. By negotiating now, between Spaniards, we might even yet avoid a total disaster — which it is not to your interest to court, I imagine, my dear friend.”

It was so brutally insolent that Kondratiev, feeling anger flare up in him, answered in a voice changed beyond recognition:

“… your government's province to treat or to continue fighting. I consider your language unwarranted, comrade.”

The Socialist drew himself up, adjusted his khaki necktie, showed his yellow teeth in a wide smile.

“In that case excuse me, my dear comrade. Perhaps this is really all a farce which I fail to understand, but which is costing my people dearly. In any case, I have told you the absolute truth, General. Good-by …”

He held out a long, supple, dry, simian hand, clicked his heels German fashion, bowed, and left … “Defeatist,” Kondratiev thought angrily. “A bad element … Yuvanov was right …” The first visitor on the following morning was a hirsute Syndicalist, with a very large nose compressed into a triangle, and eyes that alternately glowered or shone. His answers to Kondratiev's questions were delivered with a look of intense concentration. His two fat hands laid one on the other, he seemed to be waiting for something. At last, the silence having become embarrassing, Kondratiev began to rise, to indicate that the audience was over. At that moment the Syndicalist's face suddenly became animated, his two hands darted eagerly forward, he began talking very fast, fervidly, in clipped French, as if he wanted to convince Kondratiev of something mortally important:

“As for me, comrade, I love life. We Anarchists are the party of men who love life, the freedom of life, harmony … A free life! I'm no Marxist, I am anti-state and antipolitical. I disagree with you about everything, from the bottom of my soul.”

“Do you think there can be such a thing as an Anarchist soul?” asked Kondratiev, amused.

“No. Blast the soul! But I am willing to be killed, like many before me, if it is for the Revolution. Even if we have to win the war first, as you people say, and have the Revolution only afterward — which seems to me a fatal mistake, because if people are to fight they need something to fight for … You think you can take us in with your nonsense about winning the war first — you'd be damn well taken in yourselves if we won it! But that is not what I have to say … I'm perfectly willing to get my skull broken open — but to lose the Revolution, the war, and my own skin at the same time is a little too much for me, damn it! And that is just what we are doing with all this skulduggery. You know what skulduggery is? For example: Twenty thousand men behind the lines, magnificently armed, all in new uniforms, guarding ten thousand anti-fascist revolutionaries, the best of the lot, in jails … And your twenty thousand stinkers will run at the first alert, or go over to the enemy. For example: This policy of feeding Comorera — the storekeepers making a good thing of the last potatoes and the proletarians pulling in their belts! For example: All this business about Poumists and Canallerists — I know them both, sectarians like all Marxists, but more honest than your lot.”


Page 24

Across the table which separated them, his hands sought Kondratiev's, seized them, crushed them affectionately. His breath came nearer, his hirsute face with the shining eyes came nearer, he said:

“You were sent by your Chief? You can safely tell me. Gutierrez is a tomb for secrets. Listen! Doesn't your Chief know what is going on here, what his idiots, his toadies, his lame ducks have done? He wants us to win, doesn't he? He is sincere? If so, we can still be saved, we will be saved, won't we?”

Kondratiev answered slowly:

“I was sent by my Party's Central Committee. Our great Chief desires the good of the Spanish people. We have helped you, we shall continue to help you with all our strength.”

It was icy. Gutierrez drew back his hands, his hirsute face, the flame of his eyes; thought for a few moments, then burst out laughing.

“Bueno, Comrade Rudin. When you go to see the subway, remind yourself that Gutierrez, who loves life, will die there two or three months from now. We have made up our minds. We will go down into the tunnels with our machine pistols and fight our last battle, and it will cost the Francists dear, I assure you.”

Kondratiev would have liked to reassure him, to speak to him as a friend … But he felt something inside him harden. When they parted, he could find only meaningless words, which he knew were meaningless. Gutierrez walked heavily out, rolling from side to side; their handshake had ended in a sort of shock.

And the third of the ill-omened visitors was shown in: Claus, noncommissioned officer in the International Brigade, seasoned militant in the German C.P., once involved in the Heinz Neumann deviation, sentenced in Bavaria, sentenced in Thuringia … Kondratiev had first known him in Hamburg in 1923: three days and two nights of street fighting. A good shot, Claus, always cool. They were glad to see each other; they remained standing, face to face, their hands in their pockets — friends. “You are really getting somewhere with building Socialism back there? Better standard of living? How about the youth?” Kondratiev raised his voice, with a joy which he felt was artificial, to say that everything was flourishing. They discussed the defense of Madrid, professionally; the morale of the International Brigades (excellent). “You remember Beimler — Hans Beimler?” said Claus. “Of course,” Kondratiev answered. “Is he with you?”

“Not any longer.”

“Killed?”

“Killed. In the front line, at the University City, but from behind, by our own people.” Claus's lips trembled, his voice trembled. “That's why I wanted so much to see you. You'll make an investigation, I'm sure. An abominable crime. Killed because of some vague rumor or other, some nonsensical suspicion. That pimp-faced Bulgarian I saw on the way in here must know something. Question him.”

“I'll question him,” said Kondratiev. “Is that all?”

“That's all.”

When Claus had gone, Kondratiev instructed his orderly to let no one else in, closed the door onto the patio, and for some minutes walked up and down the room, which seemed to have become as stifling as a cell. What answer was he to give these men? What was he to write to Moscow? The official declarations showed up in a sinister light each time they were confronted with the facts. Why did the D.C.A. not go into action until after the bombardments — too late? Why was the fleet inactive? Why was Hans Beimler killed? Why the lack of ammunition at the most advanced positions? Why had general staff officers gone over to the enemy? Why were the poor starving in the country? He was well aware that these definite questions screened a far greater evil, about which it was better not to think … His meditation did not last long; Yuvanov knocked on the door. “Time to leave for the conference of political commissars, Comrade Rudin.” Kondratiev nodded. And the investigation into the death of Hans Beimler, killed in action in the lunar landscape of Madrid's University City, was immediately closed.

“Beimler?” said Yuvanov indifferently. “Ah, yes. Brave, a little on the rash side. Nothing mysterious about his death — these advance-post inspections cost us a man or two every day; he was warned not to go. His political behavior had caused some dissatisfaction in the Brigade. Nothing serious — conversations with Trotskyists, which showed he rather condoned them, comments on the Moscow trials which showed he misunderstood them completely … I had all the details of his death from a reliable source. One of my friends was with him when he was hit …”

Kondratiev insisted:

“Did you go into it?”

“Go into what? The source of a bullet in a no man's land swept by thirty machine guns?”

Ridiculous even to try, of course.

As the car started, Yuvanov resumed:

“Good news, comrade Rudin! We have succeeded in arresting Stefan Stern. I've had him taken on board theKuban. A real blow to the Trotskyist traitors … It is worth a victory, I assure you.”

“A victory? Do you really think so?”

Stern's name appeared in a great many reports on the activities of heretical groups. Kondratiev had paused over it a number of times. Secretary of a dissident group, it appeared; more a theoretician than an organizer; author of tracts and of a pamphlet on “International Regrouping.” A Trotskyist engaged in a bitter polemic with Trotsky.

“Who arrested him?” Kondratiev went on. “We? And you have had him put on board one of our ships? Were you acting under orders or on your own initiative?”

“I have the right not to answer that question,” Yuvanov answered firmly.

Not very long before, Stefan Stern had crossed the Pyrenees without a passport and without money, but carrying in his knapsack a precious typewritten manuscript: “Theses on the Motive Forces of the Spanish Revolution.” The first dark, golden-armed girl he had seen at an inn near Puigcerda intoxicated him with a smile more golden than her arms and said: “Aquí, camarada, empieza la verdadera revolución libertaria[Here, comrade, begins the real libertarian revolution].” That was why she let him touch her breasts and kiss the little red curls on the back of her neck. She existed wholly in the flame of her tawny eyes, the whiteness of her teeth, the keen odor of her young flesh that knew the earth and beasts; in her arms was a bundle of freshly washed and wrung clothes, and the coolness of the well hung about her. A whiteness dyed the distant summits, beyond a tracery of apple boughs. “Mi nombre es Nievo,” she said, amused by the mingled excitement and shyness of the young foreigner, with his big, green, slightly slanting eyes and his forehead covered with disorderly rust-brown hair. And he understood: her name was “Snow.” “Snow, sunny Snow, pure Snow,” he murmured with a sort of exaltation, in a language which Snow did not understand. And though he went on caressing her distractedly, he seemed no longer to be thinking of her. The memory of that moment, a memory of simple, incredible happiness, never quite died in him. At that moment, life divided: the miseries of Prague and Vienna, the activities and schisms of small groups, the tasteless bread on which he had lived in little hotels that smelled of stale urine, in Paris, behind the Panthéon, the solitude of the man laboring with ideas — all that disappeared.

In Barcelona, at the end of a meeting, while the crowd sang in honor of those who were setting out for battle, under the huge portrait of Joaquin Maurin, killed in the Sierra (but actually alive, confined anonymously to an enemy prison), Stefan Stern met Annie, whose twenty-five years seemed hardly more than seventeen. Legs bare, arms bare, throat exposed, a heavy brief case dangling from one arm. — A steadfast passion had brought her here from the faraway North. The theory of permanent revolution once understood, how could one live, why should one live, except to accomplish high things? If someone had reminded Annie of the great drawing room at home, where her father, the shipowner, received the pastor, the burgomaster, the doctor, the president of the Charity Society; had reminded her of the sonatas which an earlier Annie, an obedient little girl with her hair in neat buns over her ears, played for the ladies on Sunday afternoons in that same drawing room — Annie, according to her mood, would have made a wry face and declared that it was a nauseating bourgeois swamp, or, suddenly provocative, with a strident laugh that did not quite belong to her, would have said something like this: “Shall I tell you how I learned love in a cave in Altamira with C.N.T. soldiers?” She had already worked with Stefan Stern occasionally, taking dictation from him; as they left the meeting with the surging crowd, he suddenly put his arm around her waist (he had not thought of it the moment before), drew her close, and simply said: “You'll stay with me, Annie? I get so bored at night …” She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, divided between annoyance and a sort of joy, wanted to answer him angrily: “Go get yourself a whore, Stefan — like me to lend you ten pesetas?” but she waited an instant, and then it was her joy which spoke, with a touch of bitter defiance:

“Do you want me, Stefan?”

“Damn right I do,” he said decisively, stopping and facing her, and he pushed his rusty curls back from his forehead. His eyes had a coppery glint.

“All right. — Now take my arm,” she said.

Then they discussed the meeting, and Andrés Nin's speech: too muzzy on certain points, inadequate as regarded the central problem — “He should have been much more forthright, not have given in an inch on the power of the committees,” said Stefan. “You're right,” Annie answered eagerly. “Kiss me; but please don't recite me any bad poetry …” They kissed awkwardly under the shadow of a palm in the Plaza de Cataluña, while a defense searchlight raked the sky, then stopped, pointing straight to the zenith like a sword of light. On the question of the revolutionary committees, they were in full agreement — they should not have been dissolved by the new government. From their agreement a warm friendship was born. After the days of May '37, the abduction of Andrés Nin, the outlawing of the P.O.U.M., the disappearance of Kurt Landau, Stefan Stern lived with Annie at Gracia, in a one-story pink house surrounded by an abandoned commercial garden, where choice flowers, reverting to an astonishing wildness, grew in disorder, mingled with nettles and thistles and a strange plant with big velvety leaves … Annie's shoulders were straight, her neck was as straight as a rising stem. She carried her head high. It was narrow across the temples and her eyebrows were delicate and so pale that they were almost invisible. Her straw-blond hair was drawn back from a smooth, hard little forehead, her slate-gray eyes looked at things coolly. Annie went marketing, cooked at the hearth or on an alcohol stove, washed the linen, corrected proofs, typed Stefan's letters and articles and theses. They lived almost in silence. Stefan would sometimes sit down across from Annie while her fingers danced on the typewriter keys, watch her with a wry smile, and simply say:

“Annie.”

She would answer: “It's the message to the I.L.P., let me finish … Have you got an answer ready for the K.P.O.?” — “No, I haven't had time. I found a lot of points to raise in the Bulletin of the IVth.” There, as everywhere, error flourished, overwhelming the victorious doctrine of 1917, which he must try to preserve through today's troubles for the struggles of the future, because clearly only the doctrine was left to save before the last days would be upon them.

Comrades came every day, bringing news … Jaime told the oddest story — the story of three men who were being shaved at a barbershop during a bombardment and whose throats were cut simultaneously by the three barbers, who had jumped when a bomb exploded. Talk about movie effects! A streetcar loaded with women carrying their morning groceries had suddenly gone up in flames for no reason; the breath of the conflagration stifled their cries in an enormous crackling; and the raging hell had left a metallic skeleton behind, to stand in the square under the shattered windows … “The cars had to be detoured.” People who had failed to get their precious potatoes had walked slowly away, each toward his own life … Again the sirens bellowed, the women crowding around the shop door did not scatter, for fear of losing their turns and, with them, their quota of lentils. For death is only a possibility, but hunger is certain. When houses fell, people rushed into the ruins to pick up wood — something to boil the pot with. Bombs of a new pattern, manufactured in Saxony by conscientious scientists, let loose such cyclones that only the skeletons of big buildings remained standing, reigning over islands of silence that were like volcanic craters suddenly extinguished. No one survived under the ruins except, by a miracle, a little girl with short black curls, whom her companions found unconscious under fifteen feet of rubble in a sort of niche; their movements as they carried her away were inconceivably gentle, they were in ecstasies because they could hear her peaceful breathing. Perhaps she was only asleep? She came out of her faint the moment the full sunlight fell on her eyelids. She revived in the arms of half-naked, smoke-blackened beings whose eyes rolled with insane laughter; down they went into the heart of the city, into the banality of every day, from the summit of some unknown mountain … The old women insisted that they had seen a decapitated pigeon drop from the sky in front of the rescued girl; from the bird's pearl-gray neck jetted a copious red spray, like a red dew … “You don't mean to say you believe in pious ravings like that?” — You walked for a long time, beyond human endurance, through the cold darkness of a tunnel, skinning your fingers against sharp and slimy rock walls, stumbling over inert bodies which perhaps were corpses, perhaps exhausted people who would soon be corpses, you thought you were escaping, making your way up where it would be less dangerous, but there was not a house left unscathed, not a corner in a cellar where you could live — “Wait till someone dies,” people said, “you won't have long to wait, Jesus!” Always their Jesus! — The sea poured into a huge shelter excavated in rock, fire descended from heaven into prisons, one morning the morgue was filled with children in their Sunday clothes; the next, with militiamen in blue tunics, all beardless, all looking strangely like grown men; the day after that, with young mothers nursing dead babies; the next, with old women whose hands were hardened by half a century of toil — as if the Reaper enjoyed choosing his victims in successive series … The placards kept proclaiming,THEY SHALL NOT GET THROUGH — NO PASARAN! — but we, shall we get through the week? Shall we get through the winter? Get through, get on,Only the dead Sleep sound in bed. Hunger stalked millions, contending with them for the chick-peas and rancid oil and condensed milk that the Quakers sent, the soya chocolate sent by the Donets unions, hunger molded children's faces into the likenesses of little dying poets and murdered cherubs which the Friends of New Spain exhibited in windows on the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris. Refugees from the two Castilles, the Asturias, Galicia, Euzkadi, Malaga, Aragon, even families of dwarf Hurdanos, stubbornly survived day after day, contrary to all expectations, despite all the woes of Spain, despite all conceivable woes. Belief in the miracle of a revolutionary victory was still held by only a few hundred people, divided into several ideological families: Marxists, Liberals, Syndicalists, Marxist Liberals, Liberal Marxists, Left Socialists tending toward the extreme Left — most of them shut up in the Model Prison, hungrily eating the same beans, furiously raising their fists in the ritual salute, living in a devastating state of expectation, between assassination, execution at dawn, dysentery, escape, mutiny, insanity, the work of a single scientific and proletarian reason revealed by history …

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