Anarchists and Revolutionaries
A hush fell like a sheet of cold ice on the room as the senior member of the Politburo rose to his feet. Everyone could see the gaunt features stretched like butter scraped over too much bread on his fragile, pale face. And yet when he spoke in his high-pitched Georgian accent it seemed like a lion stomped the grounds of the Nineteenth Party Congress. He took a deep breath and then launched his skiff into waters from which he would never return. “I am old, comrades, the time is now quickly approaching when others will have to continue doing what I have done. The situation in the world is complex and difficult. We have just begun our struggle with the capitalist camp, and that which lies ahead of us will test the mettle of the firmest communist among us. The most dangerous thing to do in this struggle is to flinch, to take fright, to retreat, or to capitulate. Cowards do not belong among us, we cannot capitulate. Comrades, we must be strong in this fight against capitalism, and it is you who must carry on the fight.” It was October 16th, as fragile as he appeared few would have guessed what would happen next.
Ivan Droshchin stood guard at the massive doors to a great cottage, which lay on the outskirts of Kuntsevo, just outside of Moscow, on the banks of the Setun river. It was 5 am March 1st. The doors of the block building opened to reveal the gay sounds of the guests as they merrily made their way home from the dinner party the night before. Ivan saluted as the senior party member gave a big parting wave of goodbye belching midway through it causing the guests as well as himself to guffaw loudly. He shook his head before closing the door swiftly behind him.
Ivan liked his job. He’d worked hard to land this gig, and he, like most others, worshipped the head of the Communist Party. He glanced at the other guard on duty, it would be a long day, and from the looks of it the leader would sleep for most of it. Fortunately his shift was almost over. He only worked nights. Ivan checked his watch as he shivered; it was -8 Celsius this morning. “Maybe it will warm up” he thought to himself. Indeed one of the greatest thaws the world had ever known was about to happen.
Ivan was getting nervous, all day the cottage had been eerily quiet. Stalin hadn’t emerged from his room all day. Ivan had returned well rested from his break, but now he was restless. He rubbed his hands in the cold and looked at his watch; it was 10:30 pm. He looked up and looked at the other sentinel, he too looked perturbed. Something told him, as unorthodox as it might be; he needed to check on the aging leader. He took a deep breath and walked into the cottage, he saw the leader’s door at the far end of the room, pointedly, he walked to the door and turned the handle. To his surprise and consternation, he found the wizened leader sprawled out on the floor, he waved his hands awkwardly at Ivan and pointed to his throat, the savior of Russia, the great speechmaker was speechless, and so was Ivan.
Ivan heard his rifle butt drop on the floor as he snapped into action; he raced forward to his fallen leader calling for the other guard on duty. They lifted him gently onto the nearby couch. Ivan ran to call Georgii, “surely he would know what to do.” The phone rang a few times before Ivan heard the soft “hallo” from Georgii. “The General Secretary is in trouble comrade, I think he’s suffered a stroke.” The phone fell silent, Ivan held his breath, “I’m on my way.” The phone clicked as Ivan looked back at his comrade. He pensively replaced the receiver. The next few moments were as tense of moments as Ivan had ever experienced. The short quick breaths from the dictator only heightened the fear that permeated the room. Ivan didn’t want to think about it, but somehow the thought lingered, “what if this was it for the man who had stopped the Nazis?” For hours they waited, Ivan’s ears became as keen as a fox’s and twitched with every noise; the unbearable silence was only broken by the irregular breathing of the man on the couch. Finally there was a knock at the door. Ivan looked down at his watch, it was 3 am.
Georgii Malenkov arrived along with Lavrentii Beria. The haughty members of the Politburo stormed into the room. Malenkov glanced at Ivan and barked: “GET OUT! Can’t you see he’s fine? He needs space! Out!” Ivan and the other sentinel saluted awkwardly before beating a hasty retreat. “Of course he was right,” Ivan thought to himself, “The real hero of the Soviet Union was strong and virile, he would pull through.”
About an hour later Malenkov and Beria exited, assuring Ivan that the Secretary was fine and would soon be back to himself. After all, this was not the first time he’d suffered a stroke. Comforted but still on edge, Ivan looked at his watch, his shift was almost over again, but something told him he would be hard pressed to sleep today. He decided he’d stay on shift. He wanted to be close to his fearless leader today.
It was still early in the afternoon but the sun was already starting to set when the doctors finally arrived with their entourage. Ivan was somewhat surprised. The head doctor tipped his hat, “I’m sure he’s fine, but procedure is procedure, yes?” He disappeared into the depths of the cottage with the others. A few moments later, one of the men came running out. Ivan disconcerted, reached to stop him. The man turned, his face aghast, “it looks like he has a cerebral hemorrhage, the Secretary, h...he’s…dying!” Ivan’s whole body trembled, “not the Secretary…not now!” Ivan’s face turned to stone, it was all he could do to control his emotions. He was a Soviet Guard, and had never shed a tear on duty, but as he stood there it seemed the vastness of the unruly world came crashing down on him. The Soviets’ protector was going, Ivan felt a lone tear roll down his face, it was just as lonely as he.
Doctor Kopolev stood frantically by the bedside of the dying man. They had given him oxygen and had applied leeches, but he feared they were too late. Fear from the politburo had led to delay. “If only they had called for me immediately!” Kopolev thought angrily to himself. Now, it would only be a few hours before the Secretary passed. Kopolev had rarely seen a man go with so much pain. For days the Secretary had twitched and withered like a snake that’s been thrown on hot coals. His groaning and moaning were nauseating only granting the listeners a break when he fell back into his unconscious state. Kopolev knew, it was time for him to go.
Suddenly with a loud jolt, the man stopped twitching; silence fell like a bucket of cold water on the room. It was over. The great leader of the Soviet Union for the past 3 decades had finally gone. Kopolev looked down at his watch and scratched on his notepad “9:50 pm, March 5, 1953.” Stalin was dead.
Or was that really how it happened? For a moment I stood on the threshold of creating a back story for Ivan. Everyone likes to know who the characters are right? A head guard of the General Secretary after WWII must have had quite the array of experiences. It wouldn’t have been hard to place his half-starved, charcoal face behind what remained of a cement block house decimated by German firepower. I can see him now-quietly waiting, trying to get the most bang for his buck out of every shot. He would have been a veteran by then. The quick and the dead they say. I can see his steady hand patiently pressure that stubborn trigger of his Mosin-Nagant. It would have been the 18th of January 1943. Ivan’s hideout would have been among the remains of the fortifications at Workers’ Settlement 1, where the rest of the 123rd Rifle Division waited with bated breath in the dark winter morning hours. Since the 12th of January they had been fighting tooth and nail to break through the German siege of Leningrad. I can see him now, with apprehension looking down the cross-hairs at the thick forest in front of him. I can hear the pop pop of the rifles near him, hear the shells exploding in the nearby thicket. He knew the 372nd Rifle Brigade was close. The night before they had been a mere 2 kilometers from each other, but the fighting had gotten fiercer over the past few hours. The Germans fought like wildcats backed against a wall. Operation Spark had cost many lives already. But they were going to do it. They had stopped the German spearhead at Leningrad, and Ivan had heard by radio that they had defeated the Nazis at Stalingrad. The tide of the war was changing. And he knew it.
He peered apprehensively through the thick morning haze and gun smoke before him. He could hear shouts from the far side of the wood, at first unintelligible, but as he listened more attentively he realized he could understand. The voices on the other side were Russian. The pincer division had arrived. He sat upright, and roused his comrades. It was time for the final push. “No need to conserve ammo, let’s break the siege comrades!” Of course, it would be one more long year before they could break the siege, but the beginning of the end had come, and Ivan was right in the thick of it.
Wouldn’t that be nice if that was who this guard was? Truth is if he had been a high ranking hero during WWII and had survived the war, there’s a good chance he would have been accused of collaboration with the Nazis or some other act of treason, and shipped away to the GULAG. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about the guard that found Stalin, I don’t know if this is his story. But it is someone’s story. And as Hugo so aptly demonstrated with Monsieur M., names are mere appellations, knowing a name doesn’t connect you to someone. But their story does. Ivan is one of those fake names, as well as the doctor. You could make the claim that I completely made up Ivan, but I don’t really think so. Ivan existed, he may be the spliced version of a couple of men’s stories, and maybe he had a different alias, but he was real. He lived and breathed just as you or I. Maybe it’s not exactly how it happened, but maybe it is? He was discovered by his guards, and Ivan’s a pretty common name. Who knows maybe even the details I know are wrong, are in some way right. But enough of that, this book is about Stalin’s death, but not that one. At least, not the one we’re familiar with. This is about what could have happened. I could give you a load of junk like Umberto Eco about how I came across some relatively obscure parchment once in my travels in Prague and then lost it and then rediscovered someone else’s notes on it in-Argentina was it? But that just doesn’t work in this scenario, the intentions, the plans, the enthusiasm were all there, but in the end the deeds themselves never materialized. I can assure you that most of this novel will be based around historical documents and research, and wherever I deviate I’ll tell you. And there will be a point where we’ll break free, brazenly forging a new path, with what could have been.
A single small light emitted a faint glow in the absorbent stone prison. To the man sitting with his back propped against the wall in the back of the room, it seemed as though the cold damp stone consumed that faint hopeful glow like a famished dragon. The man’s sparse white beard was testament to his age. His coarse wool coat, which just a few weeks before had fit so snuggly, sagged over his body like his now gaunt cheeks. He looked down at his watch, which they had let him keep. It was nearing noon on Friday, it wouldn’t be long till the Jewish Sabbath would begin. On the side of his watch he saw etched the letters Ya and E. It was all he had left, his watch, and his name, Yakov Etinger.
The door to the prison opened and three men in army uniforms entered boldly displaying the hammer and sickle on their chests. Yakov shuddered at what was going to happen. He had only recently been transferred to this new prison in Lefortovo, and it was much worse than his old one. Being an old soviet doctor he was no stranger to the inside of a prison cell, but he knew his luck had taken a turn for the worst. One man approached him with a clipboard. “Stand up, comrade.” Yakov slowly stood up, he could feel his cold joints contract and stiffen. “Describe your involvement in Shcherbakov’s death.” Yakov emitted a faint sigh of relief; this was one of the same old questions he’d been asked for weeks. Maybe he’d still make it out.
“I wasn’t directly involved in the care of Shcherbakov when he passed away. When his condition worsened I was used as a consultant for a second opinion. Standard procedure for a comrade of his caliber.”
“And what was the name of the doctor who used you as a consultant?”
“Well there were many, but the charge doctor was Vinogradov.” The man smiled ingenuously and made a note on his clipboard. Once again this was all quite ordinary interrogative procedure. The light seemed to glow brighter in the room.
“Describe your role in Zhdanov’s death.” Once again this was a rather ordinary question for Yakov.
“I was his doctor. I did everything that I could for him.”
“But a letter here from one of the junior doctors says that both he and Shcherbakov had heart murmurs months before, and you and the other doctors did nothing.”
“Yes, there were signs that they were old. We were well aware of it, and we did our best to prevent it from getting worse.”
“By doing nothing?”
“We did what we could, but we’re doctors not magicians.” The man waved to the men in the back who stepped forward as he hurriedly jotted down more notes. This was new, Yakov stiffened with fear, but only for a moment, he’d long ago given up his fate. He only wished he could see his son once more.
“You are anti-Stalinist yes?”
“No.” Suddenly a hand collided with his rib cage. Yakov fell to the floor from the sharp pain.
“Get up! You are anti-Stalinist, and we have a recording of you expressing your views as such! Are you a Zionist as well?”
“I believe Jews are being mistreated in this country.” Once again a hand collided with his side but this time as he fell down a kick followed flipping him onto his back on the floor. He moaned from the pain. He wondered if he had already broken a rib.
“Now stop beating around the bush! I know you’re an anti-Stalinist, you’re a Zionist. What else? Were you planning to kill Stalin? You already finished off Shcherbakov and Zhdanov! How much do you know about the Jewish-American terrorist organization called Joint? Do you know the leader of the group? Are you the leader?” Yakov unsteadily rose to his feet, and took a deep breath. He had done this for weeks already, torture wasn’t going to change anything.
“I’m an honest man. For years I have treated high ranking officials like Selivanovskii. I’ve done my best to ensure that Socialism be built in this country and tried to help those most involved with building it. Shcherbakov was doomed. We did our best to save him, but we can’t change fate. He died from complications arising from the stress of his office and his age.” Once again he was cut short as fists embedded themselves in his old flesh. Once again he fell to the floor. It was December 1950. In a few months time Yakov would be dead, and his timely death would lead to the fabrication of the so-called “Doctor’s Plot” that arrived on Stalin’s desk in January of 1953, something many believe was the beginning of a second purge starting with the Jews in the USSR. It was supposedly a plot by doctors attending high-ranking officials in the Soviet government, in which they were plotting to kill them. After Stalin’s death they were all exonerated, except for Etinger and one other who had refused to confess and had died in prison. As tragic as this event is, it begs the question-What if senior members of the politburo had been killed? What if Stalin’s life had been cut…short?
There’s a growing trend in history today to analyze “key” events in light of “what if” scenarios. But what if the “What if”s aren’t actually what ifs at all? I just read one that talked about the defeat of an Assyrian army outside of the walls of Jerusalem in 701 BC as the pivotal turning point in history because if the Jews had been defeated we wouldn’t have Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. The problem with such narratives is they try to isolate a variable in history. They try to isolate one moment from time, space and continuum and make a completely new history from that moment. Consider the effrontery of a man trying to funnel a giraffe through a millimeter wide pipe and have it come out the other end as a lion, it just can’t happen. If you can’t ever live in history, if history is always the past, then it can’t be reactionary. It can’t be an ingredient. Instead, history is a product; it is the product of billions of actions and thoughts built up for thousands of years. And if it’s a product then maybe it can change, maybe even the slightest act can have a great affect. But in the end it would look the same. We can’t create a lion from a giraffe, but maybe, just maybe we can clip his mane, and even though it will eventually grow back, for a small time the product is change.
Stalin, at least in the western world, is not thought of as a controversial figure. Most would agree that he was a dictator, and a tyrant that caused much more harm than good. But for those who lived under the legendary shadow of Stalin, for those who helped build Stalinism, Stalin is still a heroic figure. His grave still receives the most flowers of all the communist leaders, more so than even grandfather Lenin. Why? Because politics are much more complicated than stories allow them to be. It is easy to vilify Stalin, to point out his flaws in retrospect, but it is much harder to look at the issue abjectly, and to purge ourselves of prejudice. Indeed, perhaps, only through prejudice can we lose our own.
It was a fresh pleasantly chill Sunday morning, and I found myself in downtown Prague, hurriedly walking back to Old Town Square, to a place I knew all too well. It was the Baroque style cathedral of St. Nicholas’ off on the western side of the square. It is this church that has been returned to the Hussite Church since the former Hussite church, the great Tyn Cathedral, on the other side of the square, is Catholic again. I’d been in this church before, seen my fair share of concerts there, heaven knows I’d even sung in a choir there once, but I’d never been to a mass, nor had I ever been to a Hussite mass before. I walked in to the icy depths of the cathedral and realized the service had already begun. There in front was the priest, a woman, singing the opening hymn. She had an ever so beautiful voice, but I couldn’t help but notice it wasn’t what it probably once was. Age, sadly, destroys all, even beautiful voices. I quickly found a seat and soon realized the average age of the onlookers was well over 50. I looked up and saw the drooping banner of the Hussites, with the inscription “Pravda vitezi” or “the truth prevails” emblazoned boldly for all to see. I stopped for a moment surveying the scene, pondering the words of the service. Who would carry on the work of the service when this generation passed? Who would see to it that the truth prevailed? I could feel the waves of secularism beating against the walls of the church. Who would carry on the fight once they had fought the good fight?
I wish I knew, but history has always been a conflict of beliefs. This incidence is not unique to our age in history. But different movements breed fear, and a desire to protect those beliefs that we value most, sometimes even to blows. Demagogues are born as the need for instigators arises. Kings and rulers gain power as people give up freedoms to protect their beliefs and subject those whose beliefs they do not understand. People act according to their passions and are forced to choose sides, unfortunately it is never just a simple case of good vs. evil. Tempers flare and lines blur.
In 1848 our demagogue published his most incendiary work-“The Communist Manifesto.” 1848 was the year of revolutions throughout Europe. France was the first to revolt, next a loose confederation of states in Germany followed suit. Then the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell into flames, and eventually the revolution spread as far south as the Papal States in Rome. It appeared as though the age of monarchies was coming to an end.
Most Americans have probably never even heard of these revolutions, and that’s because in the end they all just petered out. But for the age of men at the time this meant progress, it made men like Marx bold and brash. He was sure change was coming to the world, and he wanted the communists to be at the forefront of it.
And therein lies two important things to know about Communism. Firstly, Marx and his followers believed that the workers from all over the world would join in their revolution, because it was a human struggle, it was every man’s struggle. Secondly, because of that Marx called for a violent revolution in every country in his Manifesto. He called for a violent, worldwide revolution, and he expected it to happen.
This terrified industrialized countries. Marx had just called on the entire class of proletariats to revolt and to do it violently. Marx made a huge gamble. He thought he could instigate insurrections throughout the rest of Europe, but instead, as peace was restored, he found Europe turning a hostile eye towards Marxism. Communists had been labeled, and they had been labeled the enemy. And it would be this label that would feed the fascist movements nearly 100 years later.
Marx was right, a specter was haunting Europe, and war and change were coming.
Recently I read a book called “Benes, Statesman of Central Europe” by Pierre Crabites. It was a book that came out in 1935 on the eve of World War II, and it was a book that was focused on the qualities of Edvard Benes, the Czechoslovak president at the time. But the book came with a foreword from the author. He stated that he saw war brewing in Europe. He thought another great war would come, and he predicted it would come out of Germany. I could summarize but his words have a bone chilling potency. He said “His[Hitler’s] energy, his eloquence, his excoratiations have unleashed passions that he may be unable to master. I fear that when a generation of Germans who knew nothing of the horrors of first-line trenches has assumed control at Berlin, Hitler may be brushed aside as completely as was Kerensky. When that hour sounds, terrible will be the toll which it will exact. It is Hitlerism and the consequences of Hitlerism that I fear, not Hitler… I am obsessed by fear of another war.” He was right, war did eventually come, but he was also wrong.
Or was he? He makes a bold distinction between Hitler and Hitlerism. Hitlerism was the monster that Hitler created from his speeches and laws. Hitlerism was the monster that people clung to, ridding themselves of poverty and oppression created by the Allies after World War I. Crabites saw a very different world than we do now. He saw a tragic victim in World War I in Hitler, someone who knew the uselessness of war, and he tried to separate him from the monster of revenge that was encapsulating Germany.
Crabites saw war as inevitable. He thought Germany was already ready for war, and only Hitler held it back. Most would dismiss this theory without a second thought, but perhaps we would do so because we are biased. From birth we’ve been taught to hate Hitler and Nazism identifying them as one single thing. But as Hitler can be blamed for much of Nazism, he was not it. And it begs the question-what if Hitler had fallen from power? Would there have been a Second World War? Crabites would say yes. Why? Because as he saw it, Europe was sick with a disease, one incurred from the past century of existence, and the only way to cure it, was to remove it.
Our story begins in the years leading up to the year 1888. Oh that woeful year, in which mediocrity begat bestiality. At some point in those years prior to our fateful year, the young woman, Liubov Ivanovna Ismailova, took up residence and began teaching in a primary school in Moscow. She was described as being a very sensible woman of rare honesty and diligence. Her beauty has been lost to history-her dark silky hair, her unblemished round face, but her penetrating blue-gray eyes live on, forever to be remembered in the personage of her own personal monster. The other culprit of the story is yet another Muscovian schoolteacher, Ivan Antonovich, a graduate of Moscow University. He was a staunch Orthodox believer, conservative, and eventually a liberal when that became fashionable in politics, he was a mathematician by trade and remained that until 1893, but now we’re getting ahead of the story.
I’m not quite sure how it happened, the details are rather obscure. But I imagine it happened on a cold winter’s night. The end of the year had finally come, and the different primary schools in Moscow were holding a modest party for their teachers. A small sleigh appeared in front of the brazen school doors, and a young man with patches of red hair sticking out of his bowler hat alighted tossing the driver a coin as he flew up the steps. Ever so punctual, it was not like him to be late. He glanced up at the dark sky above him as he opened the door. The swirling snow angrily met his defiant glance, “yes” he thought to himself, “it was this accursed storm that made me late”. He removed his bowler hat and shook his snow dusted head as he opened the door, the rushing light dazzled him for only a moment as he slipped inside the door closing quietly behind him. He looked around many of the teachers were already there. He knew most of them by name. He suppressed a grin as he caught sight of Lev Nikolaevich, the ancient teacher of Tsarist history, his long white beard was testament to his aged wisdom, and worked as well as any broom as he walked the corridors of the small school. Off to his right was Aleksei Mikhailovich, the director of his school, timidly perusing the slim choice of wine the party had to offer.
No one noticed his entry; he slipped off to the side of the room to avoid being spotted. He was a good-natured fellow, but tonight he had better things to do than talk to old acquaintances. He was late, but he had arrived just in time. The ball was just beginning. He looked down sheepishly at the shabby drivel that was supposed to be his pantaloons. Most in the room were much better dressed than he, but “no matter” he thought to himself. Tonight was his night. He surveyed the room, the band was just preparing to play its first song of the night, and partners were being chosen, off to his left a young woman caught his eye. Her dress was hardly better than his hastily mended pants and petticoat, but he noticed she had a certain rich air about herself. She was poor but so was he. He walked up to her and in his beautiful baritone voice recanted:
I am perhaps of love unworthy! ...
But if feigned love, if you would
Pretend, you'd easily deceive me,
For happily would I, believe me,
Deceive myself if but I could!
But if feigned love, if you would
Pretend, you'd easily deceive me,
For happily would I, believe me,
Deceive myself if but I could!
Liubov blushed a little as she smiled. The soft glow from the chandelier reflected dully off her red cheeks. Her response shook Ivan:
My soul attained its waking moment:
You appeared before my sight,
As though a brief and fleeting omen,
Pure phantom in enchanting light.
And now, my heart, in fascination
Beats rapidly and finds alive:
Devout faith and inspiration,
And gentle tears and love and life.
You appeared before my sight,
As though a brief and fleeting omen,
Pure phantom in enchanting light.
And now, my heart, in fascination
Beats rapidly and finds alive:
Devout faith and inspiration,
And gentle tears and love and life.
“You know your Pushkin!” he said in a daze as she let him take his hand. They danced the whole night together. Ivan was entranced by those penetrating eyes.
Ok, I may have romanticized that a bit. That’s not really how it happened. There may have been a party to welcome in the new teacher, and it would have almost definitely been held in the school, but I can almost be 90 percent sure there was no sleigh. The teachers lived in a building just behind the school. I sincerely doubt Ivan would have arrived in a sleigh. Nor do I have any evidence to support the idea that it happened in the winter time. There are few references to it indeed. Our autobiographer himself merely states that they met at work. Maybe they went for a walk a few times after work, or perhaps on her first day at work Ivan saw her walking awkwardly through the hallway. Maybe it’s just the hopeless romantic deep inside me, but regardless of what actually happened-I like my story.
I have wanted to write this for awhile now, ever since I read that beautiful masterpiece of HHhH by Binet. He really did write a masterful work of history, gripping, agitatingly accurate, but there was also something that rubbed me the wrong way. It was his incessant talk of his girlfriends, one by one he would talk about how they loved him and how perfect they were together and then they would just be gone, or worse he’d add how things ended, which is never a pleasant matter. As maddening as his arrogant commentary on his love life was, it illuminates the hope that like moths to the flame we cling to. He and all of us seem to be so dependent on these fickle relationships. Our hope is that it’s going to “work out” and all will be hunky-dory.
We try to force life to work, we try to force history to conform to our whims and will. We all want our stories, our very own histories to turn out well, to end “happily ever after”. Many of us realize that life is tragic, and so we do all we can to avoid turning our lives into a tragedy. But perhaps life doesn’t work like that, perhaps it’s not just choosing between a tragedy and a fairy tale. Perhaps, we try to coerce fate to meet our wants because we see our story as being something that we alone can change. We want a grand narrative, at the helm of which we are. But history’s not just a grand narrative told by one being, indeed it is a collective project worked on and never finished, in fact maybe it’s unfinishable. An unfinished portrait, a scene on a Grecian Urn that never plays out, like Rodin’s Michelangelo’s Slaves, a sculpture reaching towards nothingness never taking shape, in a sense being formless, but at the same time being worked on by countless hands each building and destroying until it takes a form? That is history.
It was a cloudy spring day. Ivan peered outside his small home scratching his head haphazardly. A scream broke his frantic thoughts, and he snapped his head back around. It was his wife; their firstborn son was being borne into the world. He had walked out of the room too frantic to help himself. He knew that of all births the one child most likely to live was the firstborn, thoughts flew threw his mind like witches on broomsticks planting their evil doubts in his mind. What if this was the only child they had? What if his wife didn’t make it? What if the child died or was maimed or what if his firstborn was a girl? All these thoughts rushed through his head as he struggled to maintain sanity. Something inside of him made him want to scream with his wife. He wanted it to end.
And then just as quickly as it had started, the screaming stopped and was replaced by a strained, yet happy voice. He cleared his throat and ran a finger through his disheveled hair before slowly striding back into the room. He stopped short as he looked into the room. There on the table being slowly cleaned by the mid-wife was a baby boy. A feeling of joy overwhelmed Ivan as he looked down at the small quiet boy. His firstborn was a boy. “I think we’ll call him Vladimir” he thought to himself, Vladimir, the quiet, commonplace boy whose name, in true Marxist fashion, would be the only thing remembered in the laconic writings of his arrogant brother.
Many years have passed since the show trials of Stalin’s Great Terror, but the faces of the victims have forever captured the youthful vibrancy of the budding revolution. It was thought by many to be the ushering in of the new world. The revolutionaries themselves saw it as a creation of a new world, which they were bravely forging as Huxley would probably agree. It was a new time and a dangerous time in Russia. Chaos ensued leading up to the revolutions of 1917 and followed the revolutionaries determinedly like a vulture. The revolution was an experiment, one which we can look back on post factum and judge rather harshly for lacking cohesion and direction, but the crux of it is that the revolutionaries had never done this before. They were trying to put their ideals, their brainchilds into something of matter, something material. They were trying to give shape to the immaterial(imotive). And they were trying to do it within a very short span. Following the ideals of Modernism they reached to rip apart and break down the existing society and replace it with something new, but how can you replace in a day, in a year, in a lifetime-the build-up of human civilization of centuries before? Can one just replace or fix the past? In effect, chaos did not just cause the revolution, chaos was the revolution.
In all tragedies there must be a victim and a villain. Unfortunately in our story the victims are numberless, their tragic place in history has been largely forgotten, slighted by chance and circumstance and most of all by our villain, their names have been dumped into the dustbin of history, but their deeds and their very ideals live on.
Our most important victim’s tale begins in the year 1878 on the 18th of December in a small town in Georgia. I’m sure the cold was biting that morning as our soon to be born-Soso’s alcoholic father walked to work. He was a cobbler and this morning had brought bad news. The fresh snowfall had caused a part of the roof of his workshop to fall in. Cursing his bad luck, he wandered slowly to the workshop carrying his meager supply of tools. He arrived to see his apprentice pointing out the small break in the roof to his friend. Besarion greeted him methodically before deftly climbing the sides of the wooden shelter. His movements were a little clumsy today; his head was throbbing like a pounding drum. Normally, he went to work hungover, but today was especially bad. They had already lost two sons, and his wife’s agony the night before was driving him insane. He needed a son, a man to carry on his trade after him, for all he knew this could be his last shot.
The roof was slick; it was iced over underneath the heavy sheet of fresh snow that hovered on the roof like a cloud. He brushed off the snow around the intrusion trying to gauge the size of the hole. A voice from underneath of him barked at him in Russian. He slid softly off the roof landing gently on his feet. He turned around to see his apprentice holding out the small pieces of wood that had shattered on the roof. Beso mumbled a quick thank-you before getting back on the roof. He began hammering away and found he was short a sliver of wood. He cursed under his breath as he surveyed the rest of the roof for a piece he could cannibalize. He saw on the corner a small piece jutting out over the edge. He crawled to the edge like a sloth and began sawing off the corner. “Just right” he thought to himself. Just then a boy came running along the path; he paused from his work as the young boy daintily plodded along the beaten path leaving footprints in the prior-night’s snow. There was something entrancing about the scene. It made Beso think of his life long gone by; back when he was without care, back before his fiery self rose up in rebellion against his lord. Back before he spent years in jail. “Awww yes” he thought to himself “There really was something to be said about being a carefree young boy.”
The boy approached the house and looked up into Beso’s gaze. “Sir” the little boy piped “Your wife just gave birth to a son”. Besarion dropped his saw.
Have you ever heard of the app Tinder? It’s this preposterous app that allows you to connect with people you’ve never met that you might like because they’re cute. In effect, I guess it works like any other dating site, it allows you to meet people you probably wouldn’t meet otherwise, but it seems a bit creepier than other programs because it not only shows you people and their pictures and allows you to text them, but it tells you how close approximately you are to them. Creepy right? My girlfriend had it for a little while purely to mess with people. It was somewhat disgusting the vigor with which people would change purely to find common ground with her. For example she told one guy that she would castrate him for asking about prior relationships, to which he responded that he was so sad that it hadn’t worked out and that she should text him on his phone number. I guess this could be called conformism. In government matters it rears its ugly head under the name of populism. It’s this dastardly practice of conformity that gives power to tyrants, usurpers, oppressors, and bellicose warmongerers. Why? Because each of us appreciates security more than freedom in most matters. In every imaginary line that’s been drawn up, these nation states that offer us some sense of belonging and security, some freedom is taken. But how much is too much? How much can we justify? And how many of us even care?
“The Golden boy of the revolution” the “favorite of the entire Party” and its “biggest theorist”, these titles were given to a hero of the revolution, someone who helped to build communism with his own hands. He was one of the youngest members of the party leadership during and after the revolution. He was able to staunchly defend communism not only from the west, but he also defended Leninism from foreign Marxists. He was a favorite of the party and became one of the greatest theorists of this Leninist-Marxist theory. And his great acts eventually perished with him. This is our protagonist, and it will be your job to either convict or acquit him of his evil deeds by the end of the novel. This man’s name is Nikolai Bukharin.
There was a time in the Roman Empire when Christians were hunted and slaughtered in throngs. For many it would not have been hard to bow down to the pagan idols, or even just practice their own religion in secret. But that was the problem with Christianity, it made men’s hearts burn within them. They became committed and converted to it so much that they were willing to die for it. And many were not only willing but they eagerly sought a martyr’s death. The same was true during the middle ages for heretics and reformers, even some atheists. Why? Because that’s what belief can do to a man. Many feel that by their death they can really accomplish something. They can show the world the veracity of the thing they believed. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, some martyrs’ names have been lost to history; their ideas really were stamped out by those who persecuted them. This is perhaps, the single hardest thing to fathom in dealing with Soviet history. How many millions believed and died martyrs for their belief-Communism?
Tocqueville once wrote of the necessity a society had to see the poor, to be reminded of their poverty, and the differences between us. Just this year I found myself standing in a long line outside a massive cathedral in Sevilla,Spain. It was, as it so often is in Spain, hot as Hades. I had had a bad night’s sleep as I had slept in a parking garage the night before and was somewhat irritable to boot, when all of a sudden the line rounded a corner and I saw an old woman, her face more wrinkly than a prune. Her hollow cheeks like rough basalt stone. I could tell she was poor, but this alone was not what struck me. It was her withered arms that came to two ends as wizened stumps uprooted, torn, and beaten by the sands of time. Shrunken by the sun, her skin clung like a brown spider to her bony arms. Between these two almost useless knobs she squeezed a small ragged hat, which she stared steadfastly at, hardly daring to look up from the shame she probably felt from begging.
My heart stopped as I stared in pity at this old warrior, for a moment I wondered on the social injustices of life. I felt a longing to do something for her, to take her away from her lot of begging, but I couldn’t. I left with the sad reality that sometimes life just isn’t fair.
I can imagine a similar feeling pricked the heart of a young Karl Marx one day after seeing the condition of the working class; except, unlike me, he decided something could and should be done. And thus the idea of communism was born; it was a way to force life to be fair. And it was a belief that made millions’ hearts burn.
“A man without a woman
Is like an engine without steam
Valves missing from a clarinet
Or a pistol you can’t aim...”
The young Kolya stopped as her mom started shouting at his father Ivan. “Stop that nonsense, what foolishness you try to teach your son Vanya!” Kolya turned to run but not before he caught that befuddled sheepish look in his father’s eyes as his wife bore down on him.
Kolya didn’t care, he hated his father. Emblazoned on his memory like a hot iron were all those times his father had pulled down his pants and whipped him like a common animal, until he, bleeding and screaming had run out behind the house pulling his hands up and weeping in the smallest corner he could find.
It was there deep in those incandescent corners, where he discovered the colonies of larva. It was there that he became infatuated with the dark crawling motions of the lowliest worm and caterpillar. From the earth he looked to the sky, and his infatuation grew daily. He read book after book on birds and biology. And even though his parents were both school teachers, in his own haughty words, “he learned to read virtually by himself.” And perhaps it was among those quiet animals that he learned to control his hate. Perhaps if he had pursued this course of study longer, the Soviets would have had a different master of biology than Lysenko.
But regardless, when he ran outside that day, he didn’t cry. Sorrow had been replaced in his heart. What was left was hate.
Soso stood there trembling, clutching the folds of the cloak around his mother’s legs. “Momma, he…he’s coming again and he’s drunk.” Keke reached out her hand and gently held her sons head against her leg. She bent down and gave him a kiss and a smile.
“Thank you Soso, come get me when he’s fallen asleep.” Soso nodded back in between his tears and he sprinted away to his small room. Keke acted quickly. She ran outside to her neighbor Iakop’s, Soso’s godfather, who was really the only one keeping their family together. Soso heard his father’s thick thumping outside and began to play as he normally did as if he was the great Arsena, the Georgian folk hero that fought against serfdom, and in front of him rolled up in the carpet was Kuchatneli the horrible fiend that eventually killed Arsena.
His father walked in, and ignoring Soso, collapsed on their old worn out couch. Beso hated Soso. He was his boy, he was supposed to learn the trade of his father, but instead his mother had insisted Soso enter Church school. Beso was furious, he had said his boy would be a great cobbler, he was a natural craftsman, but his mother wouldn’t listen. She dreamed her boy would be learned. And so after a lot of work on her part she convinced the local priest to allow Soso to attend Church school, but the already tense relations between Soso’s parents were becoming unbearable. A few days prior, Beso had forced him to come to the shop with him where he yelled at him to start sewing a shoe. But his guardian angel of a mother had once again come to the rescue with one of the teachers and a few friends convincing Beso that this was better for his son.
Soso knew his father wouldn’t last much longer. He was well-liked by everyone when not drunk, but that was rare now. And he was right, within a week, Beso would be gone, and it would just be Soso and his mother. And it would be in that bitter Georgian landscape where Soso would grow up, learning faster than his pupils and learning firsthand of the harsh realities of life, and learning that immortality was the reward of rebels like Arsena, those who fought for life, and for Georgia.
I have already introduced Soso, and those familiar with Russian history probably already know who he is. But for those who do not, it may come as a shock that I am painting this man as a victim in history, and not the super villain. And so I must pause the tale to give some reasoning behind this. First of all, in the U.S.A. especially, there has been a fear of communism since the end of World War II. I recently helped my wife(yes, this has taken me so long to write that I am now married) apply for a Permanent Residency visa, and one of the questions she had to answer tucked away amidst questions of whether or not she was a terrorist was whether or not she had ever been affiliated with a communist organization or had leanings towards one. The question blankly states that if you are a communist, you’re not welcome in the country that is supposed to be a shining representative of political freedom.
But the U.S.A. isn’t alone in its distrust of communism. My new father-in-law(who happens to be French) had no reason to dislike me until he found out that I had studied in Russia, and spoke Russian. And wouldn’t you know it, because he grew up during the Cold War he, being French, hates the Russians more than the Germans, which quite frankly, is saying something.
I bring this up because there seems to be this blanket of distrust and hate of the communists in the west. It seems we have tried to eliminate the good done by the communists and the bad done by the west. But just as Crabites view of Hitler in 1935 is different than ours, so was the west’s view of Joseph Stalin. Yes, our little Soso is Ioseb Stalin.
One example of this comes from Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, something that one encyclopedia says is an honor, but sometimes it is chosen more for the influence of the man than his mark of humanity. It then cites Hitler being chosen in 1938, and Stalin being chosen in 1939 and 1942 as proof that sometimes it could be a pejorative award. But what it doesn’t say is that when Stalin was chosen in 1942 the appellation Time Magazine gave him was Uncle Joe, an obvious comparison to Uncle Sam. Why? Because the Soviets were fighting with the U.S.A. They were our ally. Three years and 21-28 million men, women, and children later the Soviets were still our allies. We let them march into Berlin first because their country bled and died to stop the Nazis, so that my grandfather and countless millions of others in the west didn’t have to.
I bring this up because history has a tendency to be one-sided. While I will not focus on Stalin, whenever I do write of him, I will present him as a man, not as the super villain he is normally portrayed as. Just a man…and a victim. And who knows, in real life maybe he was just a victim, a victim of history.
Soso stood calmly in front of his examiners. He was 15 now, and he was down to his last exam. He couldn’t fail his mother now. She had worked so hard to get him here, and here was his chance to finally enter the seminary in Tbilisi. But the last subject was probably his most hated-Russian.
It was also the subject he was most self-conscious about. Everything else just seemed to come naturally to him, but Russian seemed to elude his utmost attempts to master. He spoke to the examiners nervously. Two of them were native Russians, and Soso just couldn’t get the idea out of his head that he was about to be judged rather unfairly, after all, he was still just a boy.
He started speaking roughly; there was a shakiness in his high pitched voice that he couldn’t shake. He hastily tried to clear his throat as one of the Russian examiners asked him to tell them about his father. Soso looked apprehensively at the examiner; surely he hadn’t expected a question like this. He wasn’t prepared to talk about the man he hadn’t seen in three years, the man who had deserted his mother because she tried to send Soso to school. He figured since he was going to an Orthodox school, however, that only allowed members of the clergy to enter he should speak rather highly of him.
“My father? Och, he is well-liked by our entire village. He was such a good man, and so well-liked that the priest made him a Deacon in his church. But he is a cobbler and is also very hard working, so hard working that I see very little of him since I started attending school.” He distractedly edged the collar of his shirt with his index finger. Even he could hear his thick Georgian accent when he spoke. The Russian examiner looked back down at his examiner’s board in his hands.
“Well son, we’ll have to work on that accent. Can’t have that in the Tsar’s church. Russian is your language now, but…” He looked up at Joseph and gave a slight grin, “you’ll have a lot of time to work on that while here at the seminary.” Soso returned his smile heartily. The examiner waved his hand to go. Joseph was surprised that it had been so painless. He turned to go, and as he did so he heard the words, “Russian is your language now,” and he remembered the ideals of Russification, the Empire’s idea to unite Russia by quashing nationalities like the Georgians. He left the room thinking to himself that one day it would all be different. One day he would be happy to be Georgian. But try as he might, he would keep in Georgian accent for the rest of his life.
Soso looked cautiously outside the seemingly calm streets of Baku. Many years had passed since that quiet bright boy had first entered the seminary. Now he was officially a revolutionary. He had even gone to prison as such, but no more. Now he had better things to do than rot in prison.
Baku was no longer safe. In a matter of hours the city had warped into a warzone and scene of ethnic cleansing. What started as a strike by workers had flared into chaos as Cossacks had attacked, killing over 200 workers. In the ironic panic that ensued the Azeris and Armenians had begun slaughtering each other in troves.
Stalin had escaped the strike unharmed, and had managed to regroup with other Bolsheviks. In the commotion they had managed to steal just about everything they needed from weapons to a printing press. Soso heard the familiar stomp of his friend, Abel Enukhidze. “I think they’re coming Soso.” Stalin looked up warily at Abel and nodded. He buttoned up his coat and grabbed his gun, and the two of them walked to the door where the rest of the rag tag group of Bolsheviks congregated.
Someone opened the doors and the group shuffled out into the snow. Stalin and a few others positioned themselves behind barrels near the entrance. Today his duty was non-confrontational, it would be Abel doing that. In the distance they could hear the muffled stomp of boots in the snow down the street to their right. It came closer and closer until a group of men even more rag tag and ill-dressed than the Bolsheviks came into view. Nearly a dozen dark wiry men stopped and looked at the much stronger Bolsheviks.
“Go home.” Abel’s deep gruff voice sounded eerie in the charged white atmosphere.
“Why? Who are you?” A taller, but still very skinny man yelled back. He was the obvious leader, and anyone could tell he was as ruffled as a bird just snatched out of the air by a cat.
“Save your strength, comrade! Our quarrel is not with you, nor with any other ethnicity for that matter, and neither should be yours. You look like you haven’t had very many square meals recently, and whose fault is that? Is it the Armenians?” The man blinked back at Abel.
“It doesn’t matter, they shouldn’t be here.”
“Awwww, but it does matter. What good does it do to attack them? They have no food either. You waste your strength fighting each other and that is exactly what the Empire wants. They want us to bicker and fight until we each expunge our own ethnicities and become one with the Great Russians. No, comrade, you want blood? You want food? You want justice and hope? Then your quarrel is not with them but with the Empire. You want to fight? Then fight with us, comrade!” There was a crunch as one man fell clumsily in the snow, Abel smiled, he knew this was no crack fighting troop. The tall man turned and hissed at him to be silent.
“Who are you?”
“We’re members of the Social Democratic Labor Party, but you can call us Bolsheviks.”
“But why Bolsheviks?”
“Because the majority is with us, like yourself. Isn’t that right?” Abel smiled and walked to the man holding him his hand. The man embraced it, but only for a moment.
“I hate the Empire too, but I hate Armenians most of all. If you can rid us of them both, we will join you.” And with that the man turned and the group jogged away. Abel turned around and shook his head. Soso knew what he was thinking. They needed something more; something a propagandist could use to unite Russia against the Tsar. But how? Little did he know, but soon the Tsar himself would provide the solution.
Father Gapon stood outside on the hard-packed snow, his black priest robes billowing in the bitter wind. He rolled up the sheet of parchment that he carried like precious artifact. He looked around at the thousands of supporters surrounding his small church. “What a pity we have to go out in such cold.” He thought to himself as he looked at the huddled mass of onlookers, many of them young women and children. He stroked his beard before lifting up his hands, “Peace be upon you my children! Today we take our grievances to the Tsar! This chelobitnaya will be heard. The Tsar will make redresses, and we will have what we want!” He paused to take a breath in the cold wind, but as he did so another voice broke out.
“We will have better working conditions! It’s time we stopped working in the hell-holes!” And then another.
“Yeah, it’s time we got an eight hour work week!”
“And universal suffrage!” Another voice added.
Father Gapon held up his hands again and the crowd quieted down. “Yes, my friends, it’s time to go to the Winter Palace.” And with that the crowd began to march. Some started to run off to the side, others formed in line with Father Gapon as they started their march to Nevsky Prospekt and from there to the winter palace.
It was Sunday, January 9, 1905 by the old Gregorian reckoning of time. And Father Gapon was a little worried by the lack of movement on the streets. As they turned street corners the streets yielded into more and more empty space. Fresh coats of untouched snow were all that stood in their way on their march to the palace. He knew that most of the city had joined in on the strike to the factory workers, but he didn’t think the whole city had joined the movement for a Tsarist petition, but then again the people were dissatisfied.
They rounded the last corner to Nevsky Prospekt and began their march down the large, long street. But they were no longer alone. At the far end of the street Father Gapon could make out the sound of horses. And in a moment’s time they could see each other. One group of huddled, and cold masses led by the lone father in his billowing black robes, the other, a large group of Cossacks, the Tsar’s personal palace guard. Off in the distance, Father Gapon could make out the words of the guard. They were yelling for them to go home. The Tsar was not at home in the palace. They must disperse or they would be fired upon. Their rebellious acts would be punished.
Father Gapon stopped and considered the words. They knew that the Tsar was in his palace the day before. Had he really left? Was this all just a hoax? He tried to calm the agitated crowd a little, but it seemed to be too late. The crowd surged past Father Gapon, and he could tell the Cossacks had had enough. They fired shots into the crowd and charged flashing their bright sabers, staining them that dark, blood red. The crowd burst and dispersed. People ran screaming and running pell-mell from the onslaught, but the disaster continued. Those who had already been struck down were trampled again and again by the merciless iron hooves of the horses. Father Gapon ran to a mother near him, gasping in agony. She had been run through with one of the Cossack’s sabers. He could do nothing for her. He closed his eyes and held her tight, her blood spilling over, staining his robe with a dark maroon tinge. He tried to comfort her, to give her a blessing, but she was gone. He made the sign of the cross and looked up. The scene had cleared, the Cossacks had gone on spurring the people to their homes. What was left behind was a massive scene of carnage. Hundreds of people lay dying. The snow, so fresh and white before, lay stained and beaten.
News of the attack soon reached Moscow from St. Petersburg. The Tsar, the father of Russia, had ordered an attack on his own people coming to him for redress. The act was unforgivable. The consequences undeniable. 1905, the year the monarchy of Russia began to crack, the first year of revolution, and the beginning of the end. It would take another 12 years, but revolution would prevail, Nicholas II had sealed his fate. The Bolsheviks and Menshiviks were on the rise, and it would be the latter that would attract young Kolya at the age of 17 in 1906, because Menshiviks were too moderate, like his father.
And there I’ve done it again. I’ve made a bit too much of a supposition on the beginnings of the revolution in Russia. The fact is that the causes of the revolution went much deeper and farther back than we can imagine. Perhaps the very revolution itself can be traced back to the revolution that the communists eventually tried to say they were mimicking-The French Revolution. Even though the correlations at the time were relatively weak, the two countries did have some similarities but perhaps, many more differences. At the time, the French nobility was under extreme duress as it had incurred a huge debt helping the Colonies fight the British. France had embraced the ideas of liberalism and even when they hadn’t, writers like Voltaire found safety from “enlightened monarchs” monarchs like Elizabeth I of Russia. But whereas in Russia most of the peasantry still worked the land as serfs, many of the French serfs had moved to cities to escape serfdom leaving a large population of unhappy peasants whose rights were no longer being represented by their feudal country lords.
I know I’m vastly oversimplifying history, and I’m moving at a fast pace. I say all this merely to point out differences, and why historians would fault me for making too big of a correlation. But the correlation is there, and it’s found in Napoleon’s ambition. After he marched on Moscow, and the Russian forces withdrew, burning the city. The war was all but over. The Russians hounded Napoleon back to Paris and eventually marched there themselves, defeating the greatest empire at the time. This one act meant that Russia, backwards Russia, the country Peter the Great realized was backwards and tried to force into the modern era, suddenly had eclipsed the very power it was trying to catch up to.
After the victory, Russia returned to the state it had been so comfortable with before Peter the Great. That of isolation and stagnation, and it remained that way till the Crimean War, a war, which jolted Russia back to reality. It had fallen behind again. Even though at the time, Russia still fielded the largest army, it was vastly outgunned by the modern machinery of the British. Wave after wave of men was condemned to die, brutally chastised by the guns of the unforgiving British. Russians needed change. A rebellious atmosphere was developing.
But just when revolution seemed to be taking seed, a new leader came to power. This leader was Alexander II. He immediately struck a treaty ending the Crimean War, renounced Russia’s claims to the Black Sea, and he set about reforming the country. In 1861 he emancipated the serfs, but under heavy stipulations added for the nobility, which left almost all free serfs indebted to their lords for the rest of their lives. He ended government censorship of the press and left it up to the presses as to what to censor. In 1864 he created a new set of judicial reforms including trial by jury and independent judiciaries that couldn’t be removed by the whims of the governing officials. He created the Zemstvo for the classes to have a voice, but the reforms were weak, just like the Etates General in France, the lower class found themselves immensely underrepresented.
During this time period, two important things take place. First of all, in 1872 even though the press was still somewhat censored, Das Kapital by Marx was allowed to be printed in Russia. The second important event occurred in 1878 and just like that of the start of World War I, it was an act of terrorism…assassination to be exact.
“Sasha, can we go over the details one more time?” Alexei looked over at the short stubby man sitting on the far end of the table. His hook nose locked his shiny monocle in place. Sasha had been chosen as the recorder for this party, and his shaky nervous attitude fit the bill for a good recorder. Sasha glanced at the group nervously. He tried to clear his throat but the only thing that came out was a high pitched groan. He coughed, and began rather whimsically but growing in strength.
“The defendant is Vera Zasulich, a noblewoman by birth, and by marriage, but by all standards, a poor woman, and now a widow to a captain in the army. She spent six years locked away in Litovsk and Peter and Paul’s fortress to name a few. Apparently she was convicted without reason, held, of course, because of the growing menace of student protests. She was then released two years later, immediately rearrested, and then when she was released again, she learned a trade, but was subsequently unable to practice it as she was marked by administrative exile. Reports say she had been living off nothing more than bread and water for the better part of the last decade. After her release, she joined a small band of subversives called the Buntari. Little is known of this group until a couple of years ago, and I remember this incident in the papers, when they tried to kill a suspected traitor in their midst. They beat him with a ball and chain and poured acid on his face. I guess they suspected it would have killed him, but somehow he survived and reported all their names to the police. She was not linked to the beating, but her name did appear as part of the group.
Evidently she reappeared in St. Petersburg this last year and this incident the alleged incident occurred because of her dissatisfaction with the mayor of St. Petersburg, General Fyodor Trebov. He had recently locked away and beaten a certain Arkhip Bogolyubov for not removing his cap in his presence. And as her lawyer made extremely clear, her time in prison made her tremendously sensitive to others who were also punished for no real reason.” The man paused for a second as if lost in thought. “Tak, and so she took it upon herself to give this man, and well, quite frankly, many of the citizens in St. Petersburg justice. As a noblewoman she was permitted to enter the mayor’s estate and submit a petition with others directly to the mayor. When they were ushered into the mayor’s office by an adjutant, she found herself first in line. She handed the mayor the petition muttering something about it being about a certificate of conduct. The mayor silently took it, made a note on it with a pencil and turned to the next petitioner. As he turned the defendant pulled a revolver out of the folds of her cloak and shot him twice in the back. After which, she dropped the revolver to the ground and patiently waited for a guard to tackle her. A few days later the mayor died, and the trial began.
The defense then made a compelling argument as to the nature of the killing, and put the mayor on trial instead of her. And we would all agree, the mayor received his just reward.” The man ended speaking to murmurs of assent and pounding of hands on the table. Alexei looked aghast at the room before him.
“She shot General Trebov! He’s the mayor for Christ’s sake!”
“Yeah, but he was a horrible man!”
“Yes, he deserved it.” Another voice piped in. Alexei looked down at his gray coat. He was fiddling with his fur cap in his right hand, gripping the table in front of him with the other. The room was full of hostility. He seemed to be alone in the defense of the mayor. He couldn’t believe it, the gentry themselves didn’t seem to care for the law. He sighed as he gently plopped his cap back onto the table.
“But isn’t the woman Vera Zasulich on trial, not General Trebov?” He tried, but could hardly hide the exasperation in his voice.
A man from the far end of the room responded in a calm but very firm voice. “She is.” There was a brief pause before he continued, “But isn’t that the point of these reforms? Isn’t it our duty, the duty of the nobility, to ensure that no one is above the law?”
Alexei looked around the room. It would’ve taken a dead tree to not be able to see, no one agreed with him. He had lost the battle, and he couldn’t leave with a hung jury. The trial was too important; it was being followed around the world. Silence fell over the room for tense moments.
Slowly, he began to nod his head. “Maybe they’re right.” He thought to himself, and one word kept coming back to his mind, “Samosud.” Self-justice, lynching, or the idea of taking the law into one’s own hands. That was the new Russia. Anarchists and revolutionaries, they were the law now.
Kolya quietly stepped inside of the classroom. He was on time today, which was a rare occasion indeed, even rarer than his attendance to class. The professor was still pulling books out of his small briefcase, so he quietly headed for the middle of the classroom, the center of attention. Some of his classmates looked up happily at him, others with surprise. He was there alone today; no other Bolshevik cronies had made their appearance. And the question on everyone’s mind was whether or not he was there to learn or argue today.
The year was 1908. He had already been a key instrument in the Bolshevik movement in Moscow for the past two years. The year before he had started up a student organization for the Bolsheviks within the university itself with Grigorii Sokolnikov. But it had been disbanded within a year as the Okhrana, or Tsarist police, broke it up.
Attention turned back to the front as the professor began speaking. He was a venerable old man, and had spent many years teaching at Moscow University. He was known for branching off topic and getting lost in his own thoughts. Today didn’t seem like it would be much different. He started speaking without even looking up at the class. Today’s topic was on the recent industrial policy of Ministry of Finance, Sergei Witte. He spoke for awhile regarding the ministry’s careful attention to maintaining control over industrialization while creating a small window for the buildup of capitalism, and especially Witte’s new move to push Russia from an autocracy towards a Constitutional Monarchy. This was old news to everyone, including the change from the number of votes each class had in the Zemstvo. But then the professor turned his attention to the railway, and many smiled in anticipation, the classroom was about to get heated.
“And one of the greatest achievements of these reforms was the completion of the Trans Siberian Railroad in 1904. For once Russia knows no boundaries. Industrialization will come to all corners of the empire, pushing us forward into a…”
“Excuse me sir.” The professor looked up still sputtering his new few words under his breath.
“Oh yes, Nikolai, welcome back to class.”
“Thank you sir, I just wanted to ask, they say the railroad is progress and we are progressing to capitalism, but aren’t the two ideas diametrically opposed?”
“Well, I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“Hmmm, well yes sir, it’s just, isn’t the fundamental idea behind capitalism privatization of industry?” The professor beamed back at Nikolai.
“Well yes it is my boy.”
“But then doesn’t the railroad then act as counteractive to the buildup of capitalism in our country?”
“Awwww you mean to say that because the railroad is built and owned by the monarchy that it is therefore not privately owned, and therefore is not a step towards privatization, but my boy you can’t say that. The government has made leaps and bounds forward from when I was a child. Yes now it isn’t privatized but eventually it will be…” Nikolai jumped in seizing his chance.
“But right now it is owned by someone who didn’t build it, and when the government privatizes it they can’t give it to the people who built it. No matter what there will be a discrepancy between the proletariat who built it and the petty bourgeoisie that will gain control of the profits of the industry they built. Now just where is the fairness in that?”
“Awww but my boy the point of the current system is to create a specialized workforce as envisioned by Herbert Spencer. High output industrialization is built around people being specially trained and fit for their job and as such there is a need for a monetary compensation, otherwise the worker would only own a piece of the railway, a piece of steel cannot feed many mouths.”
“A piece of steel can’t, but stock in that piece of steel can. And Nikolai Mikhailovsky would argue that the problem with Spencer’s philosophy is it isolates human growth and maturity. A man is born to learn and grow throughout every step of his life. The moment he stops learning is the moment that his mind digresses, and the man relegates himself to devolve back into the creature he was at birth. Therefore the heterogeneity and complexity of society must reflect the heterogeneity and complexity of its individual members to facilitate the ideal of many-sided human development. And if therefore practiced in its fullest sense it would allow members of the proletariat to work and gain portions of the railroad when it is privatized and yes gaining part of the growing profits as inflation as well increases, and it would also allow them to move onto different industries, learning new trades, and facilitating their own mental and physical growth as well.”
The professor looked up at Nikolai in amazement. “Very good, boy especially with the new emphasis the government is putting on stabilizing the ruble, but what does all this mean for us?” Nikolai paused for a second wanting to put emphasis on every word.
“It means temporary monetary compensation, whether under autocracy or capitalism, is a form of slavery. The rich gain investments that accrue funds over time and get richer, while the poor proletariat is poorly compensated with a vanishing monetary value, unable to change specializations, and stuck in their pitiful, state. Just as Marx said, talking of a man who carried his 7 year old child to work every day back and forth in the snow to work for 16 hours, and very often he would have to kneel down to feed the boy next to the machine as he could not leave it or stop. And that, my friends, is what awaits us with the monster of Capitalism.” Nikolai looked around the quiet, shocked class. “More poverty and oppression.”
“But then aren’t we better under an autocracy?” One classmate shouted out, perhaps not even realizing he was speaking. The class turned to the professor, who was now shaking his head sadly.
“No, my boy…” The class fell silent again. Broken only by another student.
“Well then what then?” Nikolai looked at the boy and answered in a cold-icy whisper-
Nikolai let out a sigh of relief as he sat down, exhaustedly knocking some papers off his cluttered desk. He took a deep breath before reaching down to grab them. A smile formed on the corner of his lips as he realized the paper on top was his most recent publication with the nice little earmarked corner slightly cutting off the 9 on the 1909. He leaned back in his chair wondering if moving the date would change how people perceived the paper. Perception was what it was all about when you were the 20 year old Chief Organizer of the Bolsheviks in the important Zamoskvereche district of Moscow. And recently the Bolshevik organization had been shredded by the Tsar. The Okhrana was raiding district after district. Membership had already fallen by as much as 50% by some reports.
Many of the party leaders had already been imprisoned or detained, some had even been shipped away to prison camps in the north. His district had not been untouched either, but the headquarters was still intact. He rifled through the leaflet distractedly holding it next to his ear to cover the sound of silence in the background. Silence? His eyes snapped up while the leaflet crumpled in his shaky hands. He stood up slowly and edged back towards the old wooden door that was the entrance to their hideout.
Headquarters was a very well chosen spot by all accounts. It was right next to one of the river tributaries meaning the bridge next to it created a kind of natural hiding place. The bridge and the road rose a few feet with a guardrail on the side until a single hole a few hundred feet from the riverbank opened to allow travelers to pass to the bridge or down onto the street below. The street to the door started wide and narrowed as it passed an old church on the left, and right behind the church, built into the very same wall, was that small rickety door. Headquarters wasn’t always empty, but it was strangely silent tonight, nothing disturbed the silence, even from the street outside.
Nikolai reached his shaky hands to the door, and slid it open. The night sky greeted him with silence. He quietly exited and locked the door behind him, hurriedly starting a brisk walk towards the bridge. As he did so he could see figures emerging below him near the river, more emerged in front of him coming down from the road to the river. He stopped, unsure of where to go, and then he thought of the church and started to walk quickly towards the doors, but they too opened revealing a man in a long petticoat, which buttoned all the way up to just below his chin. His army style boots with baggy pants revealed him to be an officer. He looked Bukharin up and down coolly.
“Hello, Nikolai, I don’t think we’ve met?”
“No, sir, we haven’t.” Nikolai answered stiffly, the men around him had him rattled.
“Well I think it’s about time we should, yes?” And with that the man waved at the men, who moved forward, grabbing and chaining Nikolai’s wrists coarsely. It was his first foray in a Russian prison. In two months time he would be out again and back to his Marxist schemes. By late fall he was to be arrested again, and this time released with the fear of a pending trial that never came. He was to continue his role as a Muscovian leader until the end of 1910, when almost all the Social Democratic Labor Party leadership was arrested. This was the low point mark in Bolshevik history. They did not reemerge as the leading party until after the revolution itself. While in 1907, records state that 100,000 people were members of the party but by the end of 1909 less than 10,000 remained loyal. The next few years were perilously dark for the Bolshevik leaders. Russia had become a pit of venomous vipers for them. But it was during this time in exile, when the party leadership that would eventually lead the new, glorious revolution, emerged.
Rain. Do you ever just listen to its clandestine canter? Most of us probably think of rain as a bad thing. Something that ruins festivals and parties, makes you stay inside and change your plans. But there’s something calming about that soft pitter-patter. There’s something hopeful in its touch. Rain carries the promise of change. The promise that the old will be washed away or even just renewed. There’s something about it that seems to say that today’s miseries, but soon it will be replaced with something better, with a new day, with a new world. Rain signals that opportunities are just on the horizon, and there is something new to be hoped for.
That’s why I imagine that day in 1911 to be a rainy day. The day when the two greatest visionaries of Russian Marxist thought met. I don’t picture Bukharin walking through the park on a sunny day to meet with Lenin on a park bench. I don’t see them playful or happy to be stuck in Krakow far far away from the country they loved. No, it took some grit to be a revolutionary, to believe in a cause especially when living in exile.
No, indeed, I see a dark rainy day, a day where the rain poured down in sheets. I see Bukharin walking through the wet cobblestone streets in his large black trench coat holding a small newspaper over his head for some protection. He’d be walking with purpose but also slowly as if dejected. I see him walking towards an old shaky wooden building. Even from the outside you could tell there were leaks in the roofing.
I can see the door shake from even the soft rap of his hand. And then I see the door open, a man inside with a nicely combed mustache recognizes him and yells for him to be allowed in. Bukharin smiles as he enters, he hasn’t realized so many escaped. There in the distance he can make out a small press. “So this is how they’ve done it.” He grins to himself before being welcomed by his comrade. Everyone grows quiet as they realize a newcomer has entered. And then a man stands up from the corner. Bukharin hadn’t noticed him as he had been stooped over a piece of parchment. Lenin, the great Lenin walks up to Bukharin looks him dead square in the face and grips his hand tightly.
“This is Nikolai Bukharin, sir. I worked with him in Moscow, he was chief organizer…” Kolya’s friend stopped dead as Lenin’s firm quiet, voice rang out.
“Yes, I know who you are. I am very impressed by your work in Moscow, and we will need you more than ever here. Now is not the time, but we’ll talk tomorrow.” Bukharin swallowed.
“Yes, here. We don’t have much, so we must make what we smuggle back to Russia,” he paused as the last word came out with all sincerity, “count.”
“Yes sir, I’ll do what I can.”
“Oh and remember Kolya, my name is Volodya or comrade, never sir.”
“Ach, yes comrade, sir.” Lenin smiled as did Bukharin albeit a bit more sheepishly. But for a moment of silence, they both heard it, the pour of the rain outside. With a twirl Lenin spun on his heel and started to stunt back to his desk.
“The industrialized streets of Poland are being cleansed comrades. Soon it will be our turn. Soon!” And with that he sat back at his desk and the place seemed to jump back into chaos. But through all the noise Bukharin could hear it. The soft drip, drip, drip.
“But it can’t be right, can it?” Kolya felt like someone had just hit him in the stomach. He looked sadly at his friend Hans.
“I don’t know Claus. Professor Bohm-Bawerk makes a good point. Marginalization does kind of supplant Marx’s labor theory of value, and it answers Smith’s capitalist question of why water, which is so fundamental, is so much cheaper than diamonds, which no one needs to live.” Hans spoke happily with his Russian friend, who spoke German so well, but he knew this lecture was weighing heavily on his friend’s mind. “Come on friend, let’s go for a walk next to the palace.”
Kolya nodded but still gave Hans a tepid look. He guffawed “Yeah next to the palace because we can’t go in, that’s for the bourgeoisies.” Hans smiled back and grabbed Kolya gently by the shoulder leading him down the stairs and outside into the crisp autumn wind.
“Cheer up, Claus, we’ll figure it out.”
“But it’s not just about figuring it out; I mean what if they are right? What if the marginal theory is correct and completely defensible? I mean, so far it seems impenetrable. Diamonds are so rare that any change, regardless of whether it’s an increase or a decrease, has a huge effect on their value, which means that their rarity is what makes them more valuable than water, which has nothing to do with usage. You know what it means! It means that labor, being one of the most plentiful goods in the world, is also one of the cheapest and worthless even if it is necessary.” He lifted up his head in despair and saw the blurred sun shining through the tall English Yews that lined the path leading to the palace.
“Ok, so maybe methodologically the theory is right. But Marx wasn’t ever one to just leave his theory to methodology right? His was a theory that combined philosophy and history as well, right?” Kolya looked at his friend and quietly muttered,
“And sociology...” They both looked at the ground and walked in silence. The soft howl of the wind reminded Kolya of his Russian home, now thousands of miles away. Kolya looked up and saw the palace walls coming into view, behind them the sun danced like a golden ferry between the haze of clouds. Kolya stopped and grabbed Hans’ wrist frantically gasping. “I’ve got it! I’ve got it!”
“Haha, well out with it then!” Hans said gaily.
“The problem with the bourgeois class, at least socially, is that according to Marx we as humans are fundamentally creative and free beings right? But the bourgeoisies are distancing themselves step by step from labor itself. They are becoming rentiers, people who are mere consumers. People who do not create anything at all, they merely oversee the creation and consume what is created. Smith’s original problem with diamonds and water was that water was so much more useful than diamonds. He was confused why people would pay more for a diamond. The same is true for labor. Even though it is a common good, it is necessary for a man to be a man. Labor lends an escape for our creativity. It gives us freedom and as such is a piece of our human conscience. If we lose it, we lose our chance at expression, we become a machine that doesn’t act but is only acted upon. We become the accursed rentier!” Kolya glanced at his friend. Hans looked positively elated.
“We’re going to need to write that down!” He said excitedly. And indeed Bukharin would write it down. It would become his first book and one of the most popular works in Soviet Russia after the revolution. It became known as “The Economic Theory of the Leisure Class.” And was a stepping stone for one of the Soviets greatest thinkers.
Fall passed all too quickly for Bukharin, and soon it was being replaced by the stinging cold of winter. He liked Vienna, the bustle in the streets, and the artistic feel during the summer. He had even gone so far as to befriend a few of the painters that he liked the most. Sometimes they would visit, and sometimes they would send friends. Usually they were just peddlers looking to sell their art, and even though Kolya had a modest budget, he still tried to entertain them because he was especially interested in their ideas on socialism.
But today he had no need of guests. He already had one more than distinguished guest, one who had been there for weeks already and intended to stay a little longer. They had been working for days on what would come to be known as “Marxism and The National Question.” A question that would eventually create a chasm between Bukharin and Lenin.
Kolya neared the table of his friend and sat down behind him stroking his thin red beard. “Any luck at reconciliation today?” Kolya smiled putting his hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Ach, well it’s obvious, Kolya…You’re right. Marx’s stance is clear. He calls for a unified rebellion, the idea is to overcome nationalities and join in the greater class struggle. But Lenin believes that unification is an elitist principal.”
“Hmmm, yes, Soso, that’s what I’ve been saying all along.” Just then there was a knock at the door. Kolya got up to go get it.
“Are you expecting visitors?”
“No, but it is a cold day, sometimes the poorer artists come by to share some heat, and I make sure they get an avid discussion on Bolshevism.” He smiled at his guest.
“Well good, maybe they can be of help with the topic of Nationalism.” Kolya opened the door to reveal a fresh sheet of snow outside their small wooden door. Outside was a young man about the same age as Kolya. He was wearing a thick old coat that was beaten and battered from years of use. He stood nearly a head taller than Bukharin, something Kolya didn’t find odd as he was only 5’ tall. Indeed, Kolya and Soso made quite the pair; Kolya was 5’ with a large balding forehead, his red hair poking out from the sides of his head and chin. Soso on the other hand was a little taller at 5’4” with a tall head of brown hair and a thick well-groomed mustache that reached just beyond the corners of his cheeks. The man in front of Kolya also had a short thick mustache and light brown hair. He looked cold and he was carrying a painting.
“My good sir, did my friends tell you where you could find me?”
“Yes, you were recommended by a certain Rupert.”
“Rupert, eh? Good man that Rupert. Well come in then, don’t just stand outside freezing to death, it’s deathly cold today.” The man entered gratefully as Kolya shut out the last swirling spray of wind and snow from the outside. Kolya turned around to see the man standing awkwardly looking at Stalin. Kolya had forgotten that Soso didn’t speak much German. After all, that was why Lenin had sent him to Kolya in the first place.
“I don’t mean to intrude sir.”
“Oh no, don’t even bother, this is my friend Soso, and I think you couldn’t have come at a better time.” The man looked hesitantly as Kolya. “I’ll explain in just a moment, but it seems we’re stumped by a certain ideal.” His voice trailed off as he pulled up a seat for the man and headed for the tiny kitchen in the corner. “I’ll get you some tea while we’re at it, and at the end I’d love to take a look of that painting of yours.”
Soso looked up friendly at the newcomer and said hi in his thick Georgian accent. The man smiled back at Soso and silence took over as the two waited for their translator to return. A moment or two later Kolya was back and sitting in between his older friend and the new young man.
“So…where was I? Oh yes, I remember. Soso and I have been given the task of writing about Nationalism and its place in Marxism. You have had a first-hand view on Austrian Nationalism. Right you are Austrian?” The man nodded, “so what is your take on Nationalism?” The man smiled and cleared his throat; Kolya thought it a bit odd how polite this young mendicant man was.
“Well sir, in Austria we’ve got the short end of the stick. All of the German states were united to form a new state except for our Austrian state. Instead, we find ourselves dependent on Hungary and Bohemia and all the rest of the Balkans. Our state as it is, is incongruous. We don’t have a fundamental language structure. The Slavs don’t mix with the Germans and the Hungarians don’t mix with either. It’s too multi-cultural for my liking, and I think it’s too multi-cultural to be ruled. I think Austria would be better off rejoining the rest of the Germans. That’s where we’ll find identity.” He stopped as Kolya finished translating for Soso.
“But then you tolerate the Czechs right? So what makes you tolerate them?” The man thought for a second.
“I tolerate them because I have to. I believe a war is brewing in Europe, and I would be afraid to fight for the Empire. It’s too diverse. The Hungarians would kill me just as fast as an enemy force would.”
“Hmmm, now that’s probably true. But what about a loose confederation, do you think that would work?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean a loose juncture of states, each autonomous, but loosely connected into an empire?”
“As in Austria and Bohemia and Hungary right?”
“Yes that’s right.”
“Well let’s say a war does break out, why would I as a German come to the defense of the Czechs when I have no relation to them.”
“Well you would because if you lose their industries it would weaken your empire and in turn weaken your country.”
“But it’s small enough it can be spared right?”
“Perhaps…” Kolya smiled, “so your point of view is Nationalism is the best scenario?”
“Well yes, of course.”
“Haha, that’s easy enough said from a German perspective. You have a large swath of Germanic tribes, you’re not going anywhere soon. But what about those smaller populations? Your point is that there is no point to protect them because they would kill you even if you tried. And if the larger populations don’t protect them then who’s to keep them from being swept away like sand in the wind?”
The man was silent for a moment. “Nothing I guess.”
“Ha, and there we have it. That’s the unfortunate byproduct of Nationalism. The idea that somehow mankind’s races make them…incongruous, that was the word you used right? But what if there was something bigger? Something deeper that united all of us? And here, and since you are one sharp young man I’m guessing you already guessed, I’m speaking of the greater class struggle. The ideal that deep down at the heart of every man lies the same struggle. The struggle to be free, to live just as well as the next man lives. Isn’t that right?”
“I don’t know sir. As you can see, I am a poor man, and even though I was not always this way, it’s evident to me that there is not something inside of men that makes them want to be equals. Men want to be greater than each other. They want to have power and riches over others. That’s just the way we are. It is a utopian dream to believe that if men were given a chance for equality that they would take it. No, men must be coerced and forced to conform and grow together. Too many options and they will grow apart, and then only the strongest will survive.”
“Well said, my comrade, spoken like a true student of Nietzsche. But then we are missing something. Something unites populaces in nationalities. That could be used to unite a larger populace right?”
“Well what then?”
“Fear and freedom.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, for example in Austria or in Russia the fear of what the police might do unites us, so we stay a part of the empire for fear of retribution. But freedom can also be used as a weapon to unite someone. Because once people have freedom, they are afraid it will be taken away, and so they will be more cautious and better caretakers of their freedom.”
“Ach, my comrade, it’s so clear now, I knew we just needed a fresh mind. And in this case a brilliant one.” Kolya turned to speak to Soso growing more and more animated as the time passed. After a while of sipping tea, Kolya remembered to look at the painting. It was a gorgeous watercolor. Certainly not the best Kolya had ever seen, and slightly overpriced, but Kolya congratulated the young man even if he didn’t have the money to buy it. After the young man had warmed up and had chatted for a while he got up to go. Kolya got up to show him the door and Soso arose to shake his hand.
Kolya watched him disappear into the blizzard outside before returning to Soso. “Not a bad chap eh? Wish he was a socialist.”
Soso looked pensively back, “he is a socialist; he just doesn’t know it yet. What was his name by the way? I didn’t want to ask.” Kolya thought for a moment stroking his beard absentmindedly.
“Let me think…I think it was ummm…Adolf…Adolf Hitler.”
Wow, if historians knew my fraudulent work, they’d put me away! Truth is, there’s probably a .09% chance(kind of made that up) the young Hitler ever talked to the young Stalin and Bukharin. But it would be the ultimate irony. And I just couldn’t pass up such a chapter because the truth is the year of 1913 is a strange one for Vienna. Bukharin, Stalin, and Hitler were all there at the beginning of the year. Stalin left back to Saint Petersburg in February. Hitler then left for Vienna for good in May, and Lenin paid Bukharin a visit in June. I guess I just find it strange that some of the future’s most polemic and powerful world leaders would all be in the same city at the same time, so I had to bring it up.
But the truth is an evasive thing. Hitler was painting in the era of open-air painting, so I mean, who knows? Maybe one quiet day Bukharin or Stalin walked past a young painter with a small mustache in the streets of Vienna. I can see them stopping for a moment to admire his amateur work and then continuing on silently, maybe smiling at him, or offering him some word of congratulation. But for one moment in time, I see the youth, unpressured by the movements of the world and united by the very fact that they were young dreamers, caught up in the city of artists and writers on the eve of the war that would change it all. And make their dreams a horrid reality.
For our revolutionaries The Great War brought a brief cessation in revolutionary activity as governments around the world worked to round up aliens and potential revolutionaries. This meant that Bukharin was sent to prison in Austria, before escaping to Switzerland to continue his émigré activities. Stalin, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky, after his return to St. Petersburg, he was sent into exile to Russia’s favorite place for political exiles-Siberia.
But the revolutionaries’ void was filled by one, which would make Russia bleed for years to come. It was filled by that of anarchy.
Tsar Nicholas II rose from his golden chair and cast his eyes on the dreary scene that greeted his eyes below the palace. The square of Petrograd(changed from the too German sounding St. Petersburg) was filled with women mourning the loss of their husbands and sons. Nicholas turned to his attending general. “What was the report again?”
“Your honor, a combined army from Germany and Austria is pushing towards Vilnius. They could take it within a few months. On the southern front we have had minor gains in the southern region against Turkey. General Brusilov of the 8th Army has maintained his gains against the Austrians, but it seems that he will have to pull back soon as the German offensive is stretching our supply lines too thin.”
“Yes, yes, I know that.” Nicholas turned deep in thought, “but what was the other part the report?”
The adjutant shifted nervously. “Our northern forces have been practicing slash and burn techniques, which has seriously arrested the movements of German troops, but the practice has also displaced thousands of Russians. Many have sought refuge in cities like Moscow and here. Populations have exploded and because of that food is running short, even in Petrograd. What’s more, over 2 million of our 6.5 million men fight without rifles or even the most basic army equipment from boots to bullets, which has increased the number of conscription riots. We have had conscription riots in 16 provinces. And our problems don’t stop there. What little resources we do have we have a problem sending to the front. We have less than 1/10th of the railways that Germany has. We have brainstormed some ideas on how to increase the speed we can send new materials to the front, but the best option we have is to have a mass conscription of workers from our population in Central Asia…”
“You’re talking about force labor of thousands of Russians?”
“Well yes my liege, but they’re not technically Russians.”
“But if they’re not Russian what are they? They’re part of our empire!”
“Yes, your honor, I meant no harm. But it is a widespread belief of many of the generals that only the Greater Russian population can be trusted. Russification has backfired with these new ideals of Nationalism. There has been a greater level of resentment growing in these populations. We have had a harder time acquiring resources from them.”
“But the riots, the strikes that you said were amounting to over 100,000 people are happening here within the Russian populace, not among the outliers.”
“Yes, but we can’t be sure of their loyalties.” Nicholas shrugged and walked back to his desk, flipping over a paper and signing it quickly. “And there’s one other thing your Excellency.”
Nicholas continued with his papers, “yes?”
“Most of the advisors do not like your new appointment of Rasputin.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes your honor that is all.”
“Good,” Nicholas said while handing the adjutant a paper. “This paper leaves the Queen in charge of all affairs while I am away.” The general took it confusedly.
“But where are you going?”
“To the front, General, to the front.” And with that Nicholas left the room, leaving a stuttering, perspiring general worrying about the poor state of Russia, which he couldn’t help but think was about to get much poorer.
Bukharin jumped lightly off the iron planking that connected his ship to the cold crisp dock before him. His long gray coat had little icicles from the sea wind. Fortunately, he had his black scarf and fedora to protect him from the waves. Ahead of him, he spotted a couple of policemen checking papers. He hoped his identification would work this time. He had already been detained in England on his voyage from Switzerland, and he couldn’t expect much differently with a fake name like Moshe. But today was his lucky day. Both policemen were busy checking another person’s ID when he approached, so he quickly flashed his at them before being waved on.
He reached the end of the dock and walked onto the concrete of the dockyard. Far off to his right he could see the island carrying the old town of Stockholm. He was glad to have finally made it. Elated he looked back to see if Piatakov had made it as well. He saw his friend push through the last few men standing on the dock and march down to meet him.
Finally, they’d had some good luck, which was exactly what Kolya needed. It was time to get back to work, and for Kolya to finish one of his greatest works-“Imperialism and World Economy.” A work that would haunt him till the day he died.
What’s the difference between anarchy and freedom? Not much to be quite honest. Anarchists want complete freedom, and complete control of their own destinies. They just want to be left alone. When people talk about freedom, very often they bring up that they just want to be left alone, free to do what they choose. But in a system with a state the state takes some freedoms to protect others, whereas in anarchy there is no guarantee that the person would be completely left alone. Unless, of course, we lived in a utopian state.
This is perhaps the fundamental ideal of Communism, and also perhaps, the reason why it will never work. Marx thought of the state as a tool of the upper classes. It was meant to enslave and exploit those of the lower classes. They believed that eventually because of the anarchy inherit with laissez-faire economics that eventually there would be a large scale crisis, and the workers would revolt against their exploiters. Then the world would join in as the proletariat overturned class, until they were left with a classless, stateless society where all was held in common and there were none left to exploit or oppress.
But Bukharin and others realized that because of Imperialism economies were growing and becoming monopolized by governments. Communists named this State Capitalism or Finance Capitalism. Bukharin realized that the problem with this and Marx’s theory was that State Capitalism created order in an otherwise orderless society. Capitalism by its very nature was disordered, but State Capitalism meant the state’s monopoly controlled its own assets and then competed in a world market with other empires. Bukharin’s realizations went further in thinking that this system could lead to the creation of a new system altogether, that which came to be known as the Totalitarian state.
The realization of State Capitalism meant that while many of the exploited classes would receive very little, there would be no great crisis as Marx predicted because the economy would have been planned by the government. For communists this meant that under imperialism there would be no grand revolution in all the industrialized nations of the world unless a greater non-economic catastrophe struck. Bukharin linked this catastrophe with that of war. He decided that the only way a mass uprising of the proletariat would occur was during war, when the planned economy ceased to function. He believed it was then that it would cease to be struggle of empires and instead, turn into one mass civil war.
What does this mean for our story? Stalin and Bukharin would eventually disagree on state control of the Soviet market. Why? Because Bukharin saw economies as historically progressive, to change how they progressed too soon was to sentence a population to death. And Death was hovering over Russia…waiting.
It was cold on the banks of the Enisei River. The river stood just south of the Arctic Circle, not that that did any good. It was Siberia, so the few rays of sunshine that managed to crack the frozen landscape only stayed for a couple of months of the year. This was political exile at its finest. Only the most hated were sent to little Kureika, that tiny hamlet village on the edge of the frozen river, and Soso knew it.
Gone were the days of the mercy of his youth. He remembered back to when he would wonder how his father could have become so hardened to society. But he wondered no more, his heart had become like a steel-encased drum. It no longer felt, it had frozen under the tundra where he had spent the last three years in exile.
Sometimes he wondered what life would have been like without his mother. Perhaps he would have grown up to be a normal Georgian cobbler. He would have never learned Russian, never had anyone poke fun at his accent. He would have avoided prison and exile, and he wouldn’t be having to scavenge the land as a hunter and fisher, reduced to the most basic of human instincts-that of a killer.
Sometimes, when he returned to his small wooden hut, he would look in his old briefcase, which now held only one item, that of the suit he had worn when he had been sent into exile in 1913, and the waves of memory would crash over him, overwhelming him with what might have been. He wished he could go back, to become that innocent cobbler. A man that turned to drinking to get away from the pain of life as his own life fuse slowly fizzled out. Yes, that was the life he wanted. And in the bitter cold winter nights, as he huddled near his small fireplace in his little hut, that nightmare haunted him. He saw his mother telling him to go to Seminary and become a priest. And now he realized what a dream that would have been, such a good life, a life stolen from him by the Tsarist government.
And then he remembered why he had chosen his path. He saw his father being whipped for offending a Russian. He saw his mother’s poverty and how she abased herself in front of the teachers of the Seminary. He saw his teachers mocking him in his Georgian accent. He saw the rampant poverty in the streets, and the way the native Georgians were mistreated. No, he could not go back. He could not change how he felt. He would not go back. He could not live in ignorance as a cobbler. He couldn’t shut his eye to the workings of the world, to the fact that he was less than those in his country. He could not become a priest and sordidly take orders from a church that served the Tsar. No, indeed, it was the Russians fault for not killing him when they had the chance.
But he was not all alone in this frozen prison. He had learned to hunt and fish from some of the local Siberian tribesmen that frequented the area. He had also come into contact with a young girl named Lidia with whom he had already fathered one child, but he had died in childbirth. The Tsar had taken everything from Soso, everything but his steel heart.
But Soso held on. He heard rumors. Rumors that the war was going badly for Russia. Rumors that the countryside was in uproar. That in an attempt to conscript most of Central Asia, much of Russia had revolted. He knew his time was coming, and this time he wouldn’t miss his opportunity.
Sasha’s eyes flickered open amidst his fitful sleep. He reached forward to stoke the fire in front of him to ward off the bitter cold. The soldiers slept fitfully, encircled by the few small fires. Far off in the distance he could hear them. Yes they were still there, and they were coming closer. He nudged the soldier to his right, who almost jumped up with fear. Sasha put a finger to his lips as they began waking up the rest of the men and grabbing their rifles. This was a different type of fighting. The soldiers were out of their foxholes and trenches. They were being attacked with only the protection of fire. It seemed ludicrous, they were open targets, they’d even been spotlighted. Fear began to seize Sasha, but it also froze him in place.
The noises in the distance grew closer. They could hear the crunching in the snow. They knew they were coming. Sasha turned to reassure the men behind him. They were ready. Suddenly the approaching figures were illuminated by the soft flicker of the fire. One of them let out a surprised howl as the light hit his eye. Sasha took careful aim, “Now!”
A burst of fire light up the sky as the men around him fired into the enormous pack of wolves. Their hungry faces filled with pain as they screeched and howled, falling upon the injured among them. The men reloaded. Firing at will now, the wolves fell one by one. Too hungry to run, no, they had found meat at last. The sound of ripping and crunching of bone met the men as the remaining wolves slowly disappeared from view. “They’ll be back.” A few of the men in the distance looked up confusedly at Sasha, they’re spiked helmets revealed they weren’t part of his unit. Sasha nodded to another of his men who spoke fragments of German. The men with the spiked helmets nodded.
The winter of 1917 created a common enemy for the Russians and Germans, bringing them together. The enemy was the wolf, and it signaled the beginning of the end to the fighting on the Eastern Front. The men would remember the kindness of the Germans.
The train veered off to the side as it rounded a tight corner shaking the car like a bomb. Soso’s eyes flashed open. He looked around at his near empty car, at the few other prisoners, who perturbed were all closing their eyes again. He closed his too. Inevitability was the name of the final stop of the train, but Soso knew that it wasn’t the inevitable the Tsarist troops thought it would be. No, he knew he was not going to his death. Russian lives were too valuable at the moment, even a lowly prisoner like himself. He was going to get conscripted with the handful of men that were with him. The war was going extremely badly for the Tsar. He needed more cannon-fodder.
But Soso already knew they wouldn’t find him fit for service. He had an injury in his left arm from his youth when he had tried to play a game grabbing hold of the axles of carriages as they thundered past. His mother had done her best to help him, but the wound had never healed, and as such he had always known he could never be the ideal Georgian warrior. But from the tales of how many Russians had died in the war already, he decided he was better off not being that warrior.
The train thundered ominously onward, towards the south, and Soso fell back asleep. He would soon fail his exam, and be left in southern Siberia until February. But his fate was about to change. The February of 1917 was the month that would rip Russia apart. The powder keg was finally about to burst, and the revolution about to begin.
Kolya stood at the edge of the waterfront like a frozen sentinel. He was lost in his thoughts today. So much had happened and so much was about to happen. Far off in the distance he could see the monstrous capitalistic skyline of New York. The very sight of it filled him with wonder and distaste.
When he had first arrived in the States, he had been surprised and filled with marvel at the immensities of New York. But over time that had changed. He had seen the rampant poverty of other immigrants like himself. New York was a city of contradictions. A city of the rich and the poor, but then again, so was nearly every city Bukharin had lived in. Everywhere people were mistreated for the simple reason of having no money. But the world was changing, and Kolya remembered with bitterness that he had once been in the thick of it.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the fog horn of a large passenger ship leaving the harbor. Kolya looked up and gave a short wave of his hand towards the ship. High up on the deck, a small figure in black returned his wave. It was Trotsky, his friend he had made in the USA. Both of them had been émigrés and had taken over a small Russian newspaper called the Noviy Mir in New York. But they longed for home, and they both longed for a chance to give a larger contribution to the cause of the Bolsheviks.
Kolya, for his part, had played it well, but too well it seemed. Lenin had overreacted to some of his criticisms, and had shut down his newspaper Kommunist in Stockholm after only one edition. He had refused to publish some of his articles because they supposedly took Marx and Engel’s quotations out of context. And Lenin also had the audacity to accuse him of being an anarchist with his anti-statist stance, an accusation, which Bukharin couldn’t understand. Lenin believed that because Bukharin’s articles defended the Marxist ideal of anti-statism rather vehemently, that he did not believe in the ideas of a transitional period between revolution and the time when Communism would be born in full in Russia. This transitional state included capitalism, which led to socialism or the so called dictatorship of the proletariat, which would eventually lead to communism with no state. But while Bukharin focused more on the anti-statist approach to eventual utopian communism, he never spoke against a transitive phase. The problem, it seemed, was not that he spoke wrongly, but that he spoke, unwittingly, correctly, and that made him a threat.
But he was a threat no more. The news had arrived in New York like a bombshell. The Tsar had abdicated. A new government was forming, and it was forming without the Bolsheviks. Finally, after months of mistreatment by authorities and alienation within his own party he had been called back to Russia.
It was time to go home.
“Read it again.”
“The telegram says Lenin will make his arrival on the 4th of April. At the end of the week Soso.” Stalin stood up from his battered wooden editor’s desk and walked towards his friend, Kamenev.
“You’re sure of it?”
“You know I can’t be sure of it, that’s just what it says.” Stalin looked around grumpily. He had been one of the first to return to Petrograd after the revolution. In fact, it was the exiles within Russia, who had been the first ones back. Stalin found himself at ease with his cronies from before the war. He had quickly found Kamenev and Muranov, and they had reasserted themselves as the leaders of the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda. But they soon saw that in the new political struggle they were outmatched.
Stalin had been shocked to see that there were two governments concurrently ruling. Something was missing in the completeness of the revolution, it looked half-finished. The Duma had taken control, led by Lvov. But the people were underrepresented in the Duma, it was the representation of the upper and bourgeois class, so the workers sided with the Petrograd Soviet, which soon issued Order No. 1. A directive that no troop was to follow an order issued from the Duma unless it had been approved by the Soviet.
This meant that the soldiers, who were mostly peasants, sided with the soviets, whereas the peasants themselves were in actuality vastly underrepresented. What was worse for Stalin was the fact that the Bolsheviks were not part of either government. The Mensheviks and Constitutional Democrats ruled the Soviet, and the Social Revolutionaries and Liberals ruled the Duma. The fact was that most of the Bolsheviks had been in exile at the time of the revolution and were still trickling back into Russia.
But Stalin had already come face to face with difficult choices over the past few days. He knew that even if all the Bolsheviks made it back they would still hold an insignificant voice. He couldn’t account for more than 2,000 members at the moment. 2,000 was a far cry from a social revolution.
And yet that was all the bloodthirsty Lenin called for. Stalin had refused to publish his articles since he had taken over because he felt they isolated the Bolsheviks. All Lenin wanted to do was overthrow the Provisional Government, something Stalin just didn’t think could be done with their manpower.
“It’s messy isn’t it?”
“This damn provisional government. The people expect something more, don’t you think?”
“Hmmmmm. I don’t know Soso, it’s hard to tell. We’ve overthrown the autocracy, and committees are forming everywhere. We’re getting soviets in cities and committees in the countryside. We’re even getting committees in the army. The men are refusing to follow their commanders, and yet, the Provisional Government wants to remain at war as if they see victory as achievable. But yes, it’s quite a mess, a mess of decentralized authority. A mess of proletarian rule before they are ready.”
They both fell silent. They already knew they had to get out of the war. It was only a matter of time before the government agreed to that as well. But Kamenev was right and Stalin knew it. The people were unruly; it was as if a bomb of anarchy had been set off in the empire. The Provisional Government was too weak to rule it. But so were the Bolsheviks. Stalin shrugged, “Well then, we wait for Ilych.” Kamenev looked up realizing what Stalin had just said.
“Yes, we will wait.”
Soso pushed his way through the crowded room, Kamenev and Muranov followed him. They pushed towards the middle of the back. The room wasn’t exceptionally large, but it came complete with a large box that the speakers would stand on to speak. And it was now Lenin’s turn to speak. It was to be the first time he would address the Bolsheviks as a whole in Petrograd in over a decade.
He stepped onto the platform and began speaking, Soso couldn’t help but smile his painfully slow pace necessitated by the less educated in their midst. “We need out of this war! It’s threatening to bankrupt the entire country, and just who are we to expropriate if the expropriators themselves have no money?” There were loud cheers, this was a good rallying point, nearly all Russians wanted out of the war. “Comrades, most of you are like myself-just returning from years of exile. But we need not be discouraged, indeed, we need not even worry ourselves with politics at the moment. Our call is for brothers! If we are to be successful we must convert the masses not participate in politics! The Bolsheviks must be the majority (Bolshinstvo) again!” There were cries of approval, but Soso couldn’t tell from whom. The majority of the audience stood in shocked silence, including Soso. Soso looked over at Kamenev and both of them smiled. They knew Lenin would have a plan.
“Comrades, the revolution is unfinished. It lacks heart. It lacks strength. It lacks unity. It lacks-the Proletariat!” His voice was growing more and more animated. “Ergo, we cannot support this farcical Provisional Government! We must oppose it in whatever way we can! Every wrong step they take, every wrong thing they say we need to publish, we need to hand out, we need to delineate! Were the Soviets consulted when the Duma came to power? And who’s to say now that they won’t try to take back power? Who’s to say the Duma won’t just give it back to the expropriators? And what about the peasants? Revolution has meant nothing to them. How is the Provisional Government supposed to gain their support? The answer is they cannot! But we, comrades, we can! And we will! We must build a coalition of the Proletariat and Peasantry!” Soso frowned, that was new. Marx didn’t call for a shared revolution, and besides the revolution had already happened. Why was there a need for more violence? Stalin and Kamenev exchanged doubtful looks.
“Comrades, I know some of you may wonder why we need the peasants. But Marx speaks of a transitional state where special conditions must exist under the budding rule of the Proletariat.” He paused as he knew few understood what this meant. “If we are to boil a frog, we must do so slowly, otherwise he will jump out! In order to do this, I say we must take the land from the remaining aristocracy and kulaks, a total nationalization of the land!” Stalin shrugged at this. He figured Lenin wanted to somehow play to the peasants’ ideals, since they made up a large part of the army, but he couldn’t see how the peasants would like nationalization of the land, especially the kulaks.
Soso lost in his thoughts, hardly noticed as Lenin concluded and stepped down. A man standing in the front yelled out: “All power to the soviets!” The room rang out together with the new cheer. Leaving Soso to muse over what he had just seen and heard. Lenin was right; the winds of change were coming to Russia again, and perhaps, this lack of power could work in their favor. Perhaps being a minority during this unruly reign was a good thing. It freed them up to organize for when the winds did finally change.
Sasha looked unhappily across the trenches towards the German front. Off in the distance he could hear the sound of German orchestras, but here in his own trench only silence. That was because all of his men were over in the German trenches celebrating Easter. Oh it was great, they came back every night drunk, smelling heavily of rum and talking about how good the Germans were and how much they wished they wouldn’t have to fight them. A few of them even brought pictures back of them and the enemy.
Sasha could hardly stand it. Authority had broken down at the most basic levels over the past few weeks. Insubordination was the name of the game now. Many officers had been deposed, or worse, whole units had deserted. But the most common element of the recent revolution was the creation of committees within every unit. The committees were made up of common soldiers, the officers were always left out, and the men refused to follow any order unless ratified by the committee, which made training and combat an almost impossibility.
Sasha lay back against the foot of the trench and sighed. Fortunately his men liked him, but he knew he was on shaky footings now. His life was no longer guaranteed. He sighed as he pulled himself onto his feet. Perhaps he too should try this so-called-fraternization.
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