by Yuri Libedinsky
It is spring 1921 in a small town in the Urals. There are still patches of snow on the ground. In the evening, in the old Circus building, a meeting of the Town District Communist Party committee is convened. Comrade Ziman rises to give the economic report. Things are not looking good for the spring planting. They need to get seed within a week. The railroads had almost stopped working. To bring seed, they would need fuel, and fuel was available only in Nizhni-Elansk, which was 200 versts away. It seems that the collapse of the spring sowing campaign was inevitable. And if that happened,famine would surely follow, along with worker and peasant revolt.
A solider rises to speak. He says everying in the villages is getting worse; the corn collections hurt; there was scoundrelism in the various economic committees. Other workers and soldiers speak, complaining about the situation and upbraiding Ziman, but no one offering any real solution. Then Comrade Robeiko takes the floor. He suffers from consumption of the throat, so every word causes him intense pain, rendering his throat into rough, bleeding scraps. He says that Ziman merely told the truth, so people shouldn't get angry at him. The crux of the matter, says Robeiko, is fuel. If they can get a little fuel, then they can get to Nizhni-Elansk and get enough wood to send the train for seed. So, firstly, they must organize the workers, soldiers, slackers and bourgeois, sending them to chop down wood near the monastary which is 12 versts outside of town.
Rafael Antonovich Senator, a chemist, lived above his chemist's shop, which had been requisitioned by the government. The sign in front of the shop no longer proudly bore his name; now it simply says "Communal Drug Store No. 1". He felt great resentment and hatred for the Communists meeting at the Circus. He tells his wife a rumor he has heard from Tula, to the effect that the people are revolting against the Bolsheviks...even the workers in Moscow..and that the end of the Bolshevik era will soon come. His wife hopes it is so.
Senator disliked and feared Robeiko, who has taken lodging in the Senator house.
At a meeting of the Party Committee, Robeiko presses his proposal for sending everyone out to the monastary to chop wood. Ziman says the idea is technically impossible. Karaulov, an old Cossack who's Commander of the Military Brigade, also opposes the idea. If they send the soldiers 12 versts out of town to chop wood, the town will be defenseless, open to attacks by Whites and bandits.
Klimin, head of the local Cheka, remembers that with each day that they have no seeds, the muzhiks' hatred of the Communists grows. He realizes that they have no other choice, and supports Robeiko's idea. A vote is taken and only Karaulov votes against. Klimin, Robeiko, Karaulov, and Ziman are appointed to a commission assigned the task of realizing the project. Tomorrow, the newspapers will shout the danger of famine; political commissars will explain the necessity of the project; Ziman will requisition axes, saws, and carts; and Robeiko will mobilize the tade unions.
Just before dawn, the investigator on duty at the Cheka headquarters is 19-year-old Gornuikh. He hasn't slept for two days and two nights. He was on a big operation the previous night, with a whole series of searches. Then he had to stay at headquarters to fill in for a sick comrade. Klimin enters and tells Gorniukh about the meetings and decisions taken. Gorniukh thinks Karaulov was right to oppose the plan. Klimin gets a telephone call telling him that Simkova--the head of culture and education for the Political Department--has just arrived from Moscow with new literature. Klimin smiles happily.
Before the Revolution, Simkova had been a schoolmistress. Not long ago, she had been hospitalized for six weeks with typhus. Party work often brought her and Klimin close together. And often, Klimin found himself just listening to the sound of her voice, not her words. However, no words of love or even friendship were exchanged between them.
Klimin picks up Simkova at the train station. He tells her all about current events and Party work, but somehow he feels he's forgetting to tell her the most important thing. They are observed by two suspicious characters. One was a fat muzhkik with a red beard and long sheepskin coat, looking like a sledge driver. The other was a well-built man in a yellow fur coat and wearing a Red Army hat. In conspiratorial tones, the soldier tells the red-haired one that he is traveling under the name of Boris Repin; his documents list him as having served in the Red Army for two years and he is officially here to aid the local War Commissariate as a military specialist. The red-haired one is pleased to see Repin, especially after having heard that Repin's organization had been destroyed. He tells Repin that their opposition group has small military units in the villages and factories and that most of the peasants are now on the side of the opposition, owing to the lack of seed.
In the morning, Matusenko, the Secretary of the Political Department, reports to work. He is a well-brought up and educated man, who thinks little of those under him, but but thinks a lot about his superiors, begining with Golovlev, the Chief of the Political Department, and all the way up to Lenin and Trotsky. Matusenko is somewhat resentful of Golovlev, a former worker, who Matusenko sees as a crude, coarse, uneducated hooligan. Once Matusenko tried to help Golovlev on with his coat and Golovlev accused him of acting like a lackey.
The day proceed as usual for Vladimir Sergeevich Martuinov, the Assistant Chief of the Political Department, dealing with military commissars and school teachers. After work, he took a walk, remembering his former life and his former love, Nadya Rostovtsev, from whom he is now separated because of the Revolution.
Martuinov was born into a bourgeois family; his father was the owner of a leather factory. Nadya--whose father, Andrei Rostovtsev, was a Colonel in the tsarist army--had been Martuinov's first and only love. It was for her that he wrote his first poems. But as he was swept up by the ideals of Communism and the Revolution, he became estranged from Nadya, who merely plunged more deeply into religion. She did not understand the Revolution, saying, "Every revolution begins with joy and the expectation of the kingdom of heaven on earth, and in the event brings so much suffering as to outweigh altogether its diminutive gains."
At the time of the October Revolution, Martuinov opposed the Bolsheviks and even spent two weeks in prison because of it. However, he regarded this merely as a difference of opinion with the Bolsheviks. He did not understand the blind hatred of the Soviet government in the Rostovtsev household, and stopped visting. Martuinov also broke with his family, who went off to Siberia with Kolchak.
Then came the Civil War. Martuinov joined the Red Army and went off to fight for two years. When he--now a Communist--returned, he learned that Nadya's brother had been shot as a counter-revolutionary. He could not make up his mind to visit the family, and only nodded to Nadya when he saw her in the street.
Now, although he is completely dedicated to Communist ideals, it is as if there is a glass wall between Martuinov and the other Communists. He has no friends among them.
The alarm siren sounds from the Power Station. Martuinov gathers along with the other Communists. Klimin tells the group that they are being sent out to do house-to-house searches, rounding up all parasites and slackers, who will then be sent to work gathering wood.
As fate would have it, Martuinov's three-man team is assigned to search the Rostovtsev house. Martuinov tries to hang back, unobserved, but he is noticed by the Colonel and his wife. They greet him politely, but Martuinov senses a sneer in their words. Nadya bursts into tears and runs out of the room. One of the comrades with Martuinov--Stalmakhov, from the Supply Committee--checks the Colonel's papers. The Colonel is currently working with the War Commissariate. He also checks the papers of a visitor to the household--Repin. Everything is in order, so they leave. To Repin, the Colonel denounces Martuinov as a self-opinionated, bumptious fellow. In her room, Nadya, who still has Martuinov's letters in her jewelry box, prays for him.
The searches continue through the night. All the frightened men who are rounded up are convoyed to Gornuikh--who now hasn't slept for three days and nights. By dawn, Martuinov feels that he has become somehow dirty by his forarys into so many people's homes. As he returns to his lodgings, he sees a poster of a Red Army soldier defending a muzhik in bast shoes. Martuinov makes a gesture of disgust at the coarse and vulgar drawing.
Lisa Gratchev was the only non-Party worker in the Political Department who took part in the voluntary Saturday labor. By nature, she was a very timid and frightened young woman. She taught mathematics to the Red Army soldiers and, at first, she had feared them all. Then one cold February day, without being asked, some of the Red Army soldiers helped her carry her heavy parcels home. After that, she grew attached to her students and enjoyed teaching them. She even attended their poltical meetings, although there was much she did not understand. She came to accept the Revolution in her own way, combining it with her prayers to Jesus, who, for her, became the protector of all revolutionaries.
Lisa lived in a small, bare room in the Senator house. She woke up that cold morning and, unusual for her, she felt the need for a cup of warm tea. She tiptoed down to the kitchen and timidly asked Madam Senator for some hot water. The Senators, who felt no need to hide their loathing for the Bolsheviks from Lisa, nastily tell her to go ahead,"Steal the water, of course, since you have taken up with those robbers." Stung with the insult, Lisa quickly retreats.
Lisa joins other members of the Political Department who have been dispatched to the Town Garden to chop down the trees and saw them into firewood. Martuinov sees a tree on which, on one scented July evening long ago, he had carved Nadya's initials. Now it is his job to cut down that tree.
The Town Garden has been almost completely denuded of trees. Martuinov looks around with satisfaction, feeling that he was taking part in a tremendous task and struggle and that he was part of the rhythm of a great symphony.
Everyone in the group asks Simkova for her impressions of Moscow, which were generally bad. Of course, Simkova says, Lenin understands, but the majority of the Moscow Party workers have no idea of the true situation in the countryside, the danger posed by the disgruntled peasants. Simkova also doesn't like the Moscovites' attitutue to Party work, which she sees as official, defined by hours. She likes it better in the provinces, where the battlefront in the class-struggle lies.
Matusenko listens attentively and works honestly, although he doesn't understand why clever people such as himself should have to engage in crude labor. And he is very punctual, just as, in the old days, he was punctual in going to church and making sure that his superiors saw him crossing himself ever so properly.
Klimin and Ziman arrive. Ziman is enthusiastic about what the economic situation for 20 years in the future (they have a large seam of peat they will be able to mine); but for the present he's worried that the wood is damp and won't burn. Simkova tells Kliman to come see her after work.
On her way home after the work detail, Lisa encounters Repin, whom she recognizes since he just recently took lodging at the Senator house. Repin struck Lisa as a handsome, kindly, and true Communist. After all, in her presence, Repin told the Senators that while the Communists often make mistakes, they are working for an ideal. As they meet in the square, Repin asks Lisa for directions to the Town Garden, and Lisa gladly tells him.
While walking through the market, Stalmakhov sees a raggedy young man with a sack over his shoulder. Stalmakhov assumes it is a worker who stole some tools to sell for food. There is something familiar about the man, so Stalmakhov approaches him. It is Gornuikh in disguise! Gornuikh pulls Stalmakhov aside; he tells Stalmakhov to rush and warm Klimin that a revolt is imminent! Gornuikh has no proof of this, but he can sense it in every utterance of the market women. Also, there are some carts from a neighboring village in the market, and Gornuikh suspects that guns are hidden in them. Gornuikh also tells Stalmakhov that some 200 versts outside of town, another Chekist, Sergei Surikov was killed, buried alive. Stalmakhov is shocked; Surikov was his friend and comrade with whom he shared lodgings. Surikov had requested that if he were ever killed, Stalmakhov should simply tell his mother that he had been send away on a long mission to Germany or America. Stalmakhov is beside himself with rage, lusting for revenge.
Stalmkahov hurries to Klimin and relays Gornuikh's message. Klimin says all possible precautionary measures have already been taken. Without any definite proof, there is nothing more that can be done. Klimin is not going to interrupt the scheduled wood-gathering based on the unverified suspicious of a single Chekist. As concerning Surikov, Klimin plans to ask the Party Committee for permission to go out and round up the scum that killed him. Before he left on his mission, Surikov left with Stalmakhov a letter for Klimin to be read in the event of his death. Stalmakhov hands it over.
The boundary of hatred, for me, is crossed. But I do not want to leave the Cheka, because I think the work of the Chekist is the most revolutionary and the most necessary at the present time. So let death rather come. And when I suffer before death, I shall certainly be thinking of the fact that I myself have hurt and shot."
In his letter to Klimin, Surikov says he is writing the letter because he knows he will be killed on his new mission. And this is good, Surikov says, because he will be dying to achieve something good for Communism. When he first joined the Cheka, Surikov was eager and happy. He did his work, signed death sentences and carried out executions with a clear conscience. But a change came about one cold, snowy day last year when Surikov, Klimin and some other Chekists took five White Guards out to a quarry for execution. The White Guards were lined up at the edge of the quarry and quietly ready for death when Klimin ordered them to strip naked. Surikov and another Chekist thought this unnecessary. But Klimin insisted, saying the clothes could be used to warm others who are useful to the Revolution. Something snapped inside Surikov as he watched the White Guards undress and he imagined that it was he himself removing his clothes and being shot. Since then, while never forgetting that he is dealing with vile enemies, Surikov has nonetheless found himself unwilling to be the one to sign the death warrant, to pull the trigger. And so, Surikov feels, it is better for him to die in the service of Communism and let the brave and strong men of the Party, such as Klimin, carry on the struggle and bring Communism to the entire world.
Kliman blames himself for Surikov's death. Surikov was one of the best political workers, dedicated and fearless in battle. But Surikov was too nervous to be a Chekist, and Klimin failed to recognize this. And although the bourgeois say Klimin is a cannibal, every shooting actually leaves him with an unpleasant feeling.
Stalmakhov, whose father was a shoemaker, says that Surikov's problem was that he was an intellectual. Just like Martuinov, who talks so sensibly at Party meetings; but during the house-to-house searches Stalmakhov could see that all Martuinov's talk wasn't worth a farthing.
Klimin agrees that intellectuals see the Revolution differently than do workers such as himself and Stalmakhov. Once Klimin was arguing with an intellectual who thought that no one should receive more of a ration than a worker. Klimin, however, felt that it is important that the advance gaurd of the Revolution, those taking on the major work, not suffer hunger, weaken and falter. Intellectuals, Klimin says, see the Revolution as something outside, a little God demanding sacrifices. Klimin feels that he can say something which some king or other said, "The State...that's me!" Just to be safe, Klimin tells Stalmakhov to contact Karaulov and call the Communist Company to arms.
Klimin goes to visit Simkova. She sees how overworked and exhausted he is and advises him to take a trip to Moscow for a rest. She says her trip refreshed and reinvigorated her. She says that she is not as hard and unfliching as others--partirularly Martuinov--think. She had doubts. She recalls how depressed she was when--on her trip--she saw a train station overflowing with dirty, hungry, and homeless people. And among this squalor, a bright star shining on his breast, came some smart Commissar, stepping carefully so as not to dirty his shiny leather boots. The Commissar then sat down in the buffet to eat cakes with some speculator as the hungry and lice-ridden watched. And yet, Simkova continues, every once in a while one catches a glimpse of a face in the crowd, expressing proud human anger against the owners of clean clothes and shiny boots. And when she sees such a face, she knows that the Communists will ultimately win.
Simkova is also troubled by the deep divide between the peasants and the Communists. As she says, "The peasants live side by side with us, see the Revolution with their own eyes, hear it with their own ears, and understand nothing of it." She says things must be explained more clearly to the peasants. Klimin is even more pessimistic, saying that no matter how hard you talk to the peasants, they won't understand. Remembering how many agitators and political workers the peasants have already killed, Klimin calls them savages still living in the Middle Ages.
Suddenly, Gornuikh, this time disguised as a peasant, bursts into the room. He announces that there is a revolt in town. In disguise, he was able to infiltrate among the peasants and learned that the revolt is scheduled for today. The telephone lines are already cut. Simkova kisses Klimin on the lips and heads off for the Communist Company. Gornuikh goes to organize a defense of the train station. And Klimin sets off for Cheka headquarters.
Martuinov was standing guard duty in the cold night outside the Communist Company's arsenal. At midnight, he is relieved and hurries to warm himself in the guardhouse. There an old sergeant is having a discussion with another fellow about evolution. The sergeant is ready to agree that man descended from apes, but insists that mankind did not descend from fish. Martuinov recognizes the fellow talking with the sergeant--it isAndreev, also known as "the Chemist", who used to work for Martuinov's father at the leather factory.
Andreev says that when he first returned to town and heard that Martuinov had joined the Party, he had intended to expose Martuinov as a self-server who had only joined the Party to save his own skin. However, Andreev asked around and learned that Martuinov was a good an honest worker.
Martuinov recalls that Andreev used to work with chemicals in the factory and that his father, normally a despot, actually treated Andreev with a modicum of respect. Andreev had developed a more profitable way of tanning leather and also came up with other ideas for efficiency, all of which Martuinov's father took advantage of, giving Andreev small tips in return. Andreev, who wanted to study and become an engineer, suggested that he patent his ideas and sell them to Martuinov's father. Martuinov's father, of course, refused in the most crude language. So Andreev quit and wandered around for a bit, started reading Pravda and got involved in politics.
Now Andreev is President of the Factory Committee at the old Martuinov leather factory. Things are going badly there, however. The director of the factory--an engineer and a Communist--never comes out of his office and does not know what is going on in the factory. The one grudging compliment Andreev will give to Martuinov's father is that he loved his factory and knew exactly what was going on at all times. Andreev feels that the current director is engaged in lying and falsification. But the director is so good at speeches and public debates, and Andreev himself is such a clumsy speaker, that Andreev only comes off looking foolish when me challenges him at Party meetings.
"Martuinov thought how many of the workmen members of the Party could do more responsible Party work, and deal with it with more Communist tact, than certain intellectuals, but that the mechanism of the Party was so arranged as to push forward those who knew how to speak eloquently, preside at meetings and manage them. And he compared Andreev with his disjointed but sensible words with the crackling speeches of that responsible Communist, the director of the leather factory, who was so self-confident and at the same time so ignorant; did not understand the class struggle or the fundamental principles of the Party, but was able to hide his lack of knowledge under beautiful sounding phrases. And yet, on account of his authoritative baritone voice, his ability in managing a stormy meeting, and his skill in getting the right to speak out of turn, was elected everywhere and considered very clever and capable."
Martuinov starts to doze off. Suddenly a mob of angry peasants bursts into the guard room. Andreev shoots, felling the fat, red-haired peasant at the head of the mob. Before Martuinov can fire his rifle he is hit in the head once, twice; and the third blow smashed in his skull, killing him.
Robeiko had been lying sick in his bed for three days, wretched and alone. Lisa, who has heard his coughing, knocks on the door and enters, bringing him a glass of milk. Robeiko, who knows that he is dying, has no need of milk, but is lonely; so he asks Lisa to stay and drink some tea. Lisa turns on the light and is shocked when she sees the blood on the pillowcase that Robeiko has coughed up. Lisa changes the pillowcase and tells Robeiko the most recent news. He is happy when Lisa tells him that the wood-gathering operation is already underway. Before leaving, Lisa promises to visit Robeiko more often.
That night, Lisa is awakened as she hears scuffling. She opens her door a crack and sees Robeiko, his hands bound and a bloody gash on his cheek, in the kitchen. He is surrounded by armed peasants, the Senators, and Repin. Senator harangues Robeiko, calling him a convict, a robber, a mad dog. Senator proudly proclaims that he is a rich bourgeois and that tomorrow he will reclaim his chemist shop and rip down the Communist sign hanging in front of it. Senator spits in Robeiko's face.
Lisa rushes in to defend Robeiko, but Repin angrily shoves her away. Repin orders that Robeiko be taken out and shot. The Senators restrain Lisa, but when she hears a shot in the courtyard, he breaks away and rushes outside. There, to her horror, she discovers Robeiko's body. Screaming, she runs away. The peasants shoot after her, but miss.
The crackling of gunfire is heard throughout the town. Lisa wanders around in a daze then finds another lifeless body--Simkova, her clothes ripped to pieces, her naked body showing through, and with a dark wound above her left breast. As Lisa stares at Simkova's body, a beautiful sunrise begins and the joyful Easter bell-ringing sounds out from the belfries. Lisa wonders, where is God? She no longer felt him inside her. She covers up Simkova's body, kisses her on the foreheard, then sets off in the direction of the gunfire.
Klimin and Stalmakhov, both captured and wounded, are tossed into a dark cell in the cellar of the Cheka. It was the same cell in which many counter-Revolutionaries, condemned by Klimin, had spent their last hours before execution. There had never been an escape from this cell, and Klilmin knew the situation was hopeless.
A year and a half earlier, Klimin has saved Stalmakhov's life. Stalmakhov was in charge of the corn collections. The peasants grabbed him and had a noose around his neck. But Klimin and his boys rode up at the last second to save him.
Klimin and Stalmakhov are then dragged out into the courtyard in front of Repin. Repin remembers Stalmakhov's role in the corn collections and orders him flogged. Repin then starts to say something to Klimin, but the shooting gets nearer and Repin is called away. A few moments later, Repin and another officer rush back and order that the horses be harnessed. As the torturers deal with the horses, they forget about Klimin and Stalmakhov, who crawl into a barn to hide. There they see the mutilated body of Ziman, with corn poured on his entrails.
Guards find Stalmakhov and Klimin and drag them back to Repin in the courtyard. Repin shoots them before he and the rest of his group ride off. Fifteen minutes later, Gornuikh, leading a group of Red Army soldiers from the train station, enters the courtyard. As Gornuikh sees Klimin's body, he weeps.
Shortly before the rebellion began, Karaulov rode out of town intending to see how the wood-gathering was going. But when he heard shots, he galloped quickly to the monastery, gathered the troops, and marched back toward the town. A half of verst outside of the town, they stop and engage a rebel party in battle. The battallion commander, Seletsky wants to open fire on some little houses nearby, thinking that the rebels are firing from there. Karaulov refuses to permit this, however, fearing that innocent civilians might get hurt.
The soldiers then see a figure dodging bullets and running toward them. It is Lisa. The soldiers recognize their school teacher and run out to help her. They bring her to Karaulov, and she tells him of Robeiko's and Simkova's deaths. Karaulov then receives a report that scouts have made contact with Gornuikh, who has a force of 50 men at the railroad station. Karaulov orders a final bayonet charge on the rebel forces, "Finish them off, sons of dogs! Take no prisoners."
For twenty years before the Revolution, Konstantin Petrovich taught literature at the gymnasium. His head and his library were filled with Pushin, Turgenev, and Chekhov. On prinicple, he refused to work in the Soviet schools. The Bolsheviks seemed to him low and brutal and at the same time devilishly cunning. He had, of course, been selling off his library, book by book, to eat. He had hoped that the Bolshevik regime would fall, but the Whites disappointed him and he now looked on them contemptuously.
On the day of the revolt, Konstantin Petrovich was with a large group of bourgeois and shirkers who had been rounded up for the wood-gathering operation. They were locked in a large room. As they heard the gunshots outside, glee and hopefullness spread throughout the room. Karaulov came into the room and eyed them all. He gave the order that if they caused trouble, they were to be shot. Konstantin Petrovich never believed that the revolt would be successful. The Communists were still alien to him, but, he began to think, if so many peasants and workers continue to obey them for so long, maybe they have some sort of truth. But instead of working with the Bolsheviks and perhaps discoving this truth, he had laid on his sofa with his books, reading a funeral service over his past life.
When word came that the revolt had been put down, Konstantin Petrovich asked permission to go home to change his boots. He also intended to stop by the Popular Education Department and apply for work. As he walks through the streets, he sees Red Army soldiers and peasants bringing in wood. The peasants are complaining that the Communists are swindlers, promising goods in exchange for food and then sending to the country not nails, iron, crockery or cloth, but startched collars, powder, and lip-balm.
Communists are gathering for another meeting in the Circus building. Lisa is timidly standing near the entrance, searching in vain for faces she might recognize. Finally she sees Matusenko. She tells him she's glad at least he is alive. Matusenko says he has no enemies; and besides, he and his wife slept through the shooting at night. When the shooting stopped, he went to his office. No one else was there, but far be it from him to neglect his duties. Church bells rang. Lisa remembered that she did not go to church today, but to a Party meeting. And she probably never will go to church again. She no longer believes in god.
Karaulov rides up and meets Gornuikh, who has now taking on command of the Cheka. They sadly remember the 28 comrades who were killed and are awaiting solemn burial. Karaulov says that he and Gornuikh were right when they opposed sending the troops out for the wood-gathering operation. Gornuikh says, no, they were wrong. He points to the wood they are brining in and says that the wood means seed corn, andcorn, for peasant revolts, is like water for fire.
Karalulov calls Lisa over and has her give Gornuikh testimony concerning Robeiko's murder. Karaulov is impressed on how gently and deftly the Gornuikh deals with Lisa. Throughout the revolt, Gornuikh has remained clear-headed. If he had not organized the railroad workers and taken control of the station, Karaulov would not have been able to dislodge the bandits and the revolt would have gone on for months. Karaulov, on the other hand, when he heard of Robeiko's death, had turned into a wild beast and charged the bandits with a sword in his hand.
The Party meeting begins. At first, there is confusion over who to name as chairman of the meeting. But then there is a grond-swell of suppport for Gornuikh, who is praised as a real fighting fellow, who took command at the depot. Gorniukh rose and the meeting, like a tamed beast, lay at his feet.