The new, bright-colored,
spacious Mytischensk factory sparkled like a toy. It was
pleasant to look at from every angle. And the roar of its
mighty Herculean whistle, with which the trumpets of hosts
of archangels could not compare, resounded through the
distant meadows and forests, frightening the animals and
awakening the shabby, grey villages from their deep,
centuries-old slumber. In and around the factory
construction work was still in full swing; new factory
buildings were being erected, workers' housing was going up
in disorder--both little wooden houses and, for the
bachelors, enormous barracks. . . .
Since the factory had been functioning for only a few
months, no musty workshop traditions had had time to take
shape. There were few older workers; merry, cheerful,
freedom-loving young men were predominant. I felt at home
the very first day. . . . Despite my youth (I was eighteen),
the foreman set my daily wage at a ruble sixty, that is,
double what I was paid at Bromley's. I was, as they say, in
I settled in an apartment that was a half-hour's walk
from the factory, in the village of Sharapovo--in a little
bungalow with a small front garden. The apartment owner--a
metal turner named Vasily Alekseevich Klushin--was a
venerable and fully "conscious" man who once had worked at
the Gopper factory. He had participated in a strike and knew
on a first-name basis all the outstanding workers who had
suffered for their convictions. He never attended church,
never prayed to God, and ate forbidden foods during Lent. He
subscribed to the magazine Niva--because of its
supplements, as he explained to me.
From the very first time we took tea together Vasily
Alekseevich gained my affections, and for a long time to
come I retained the fondest memory of him. I would later
recall with great warmth the dark summer evenings when,
after work, sitting on the terrace over our tea by the
sparkling light of a lamp, Vasily Alekseevich in his
monotonous, grating voice, but a voice that penetrated
deeply into my soul, would tell us about the heroic struggle
of the members of the People's Will, about particular
episodes from the history of the French Revolution, about
the workers who had led the strike in which he took part,
and so on. When he told his tales all the actors would
quickly come to life; they became big and strong, with
unyielding wills and irresistible charms.
Despite the calmness of his tone, I could sense his
profound hatred for the "bloodsuckers"--the nobles, the
landlords, the priests, and the tsar. When, in the course of
some story, the "tsar" happened to come up, Vasily
Alekseevich carefully avoided using that word, either
substituting the word "himself" or else lowering his voice
to a secretive whisper.
"The people are dark, ignorant, without consciousness,"
he would say . . . "they believe in the good father-tsar.
You can curse the government officials, you can curse the
nobles as much as you like--that's just fine, but the moment
you try and touch 'himself,' why they'll just stomp on you.
. . . [T]hey're ignorant . . . our working people are
slumbering. . . . They need to be whacked on the head or
something--then maybe they'd wake up a little faster. Or
else maybe if some kind of a brigand appeared in our midst,
someone like Stenka Razin or Pugachev--then, if you please,
everyone would follow him and hang the rich and the nobles
from the lampposts, as they did in France," Klushin would
sometimes begin to fantasize, unhappy with the slow
awakening of the working people.
Vasily Alekseevich also liked to muse about the future
arrangement of a just order for humanity:
"Then everyone on earth shall be equal. There'll be
neither tsars, nor earthly rulers, nor judges, nor
gendarmes, nor priests."
To the lazy belly we'll give no food,
And a heavenly kingdom we'll create here on earth!
--he'd love to cite these verses of Heine, which he
altered to his own taste.
It was also from him that I first heard Pushkin's famous
In Russia there is no law-
There is only a pillar, and on that pillar--a crown.
There was one thing I didn't like at Vasily
Alekseevich's: it was the times when, on payday, after
getting drunk, he would begin to go into a jealous rage,
without any justification, and to beat his wife--a thin,
frail woman, worn out by housework and by her children. Not
infrequently I had to come to her defense. . . . [But] in
those days wife-beating was a normal occurrence among
But the presence of a Klushin at our factory was no
"normal occurrence" at all. To be sure, during my subsequent
wanderings I almost always encountered one or two venerable,
respected, conscious workers at each factory, men who were
very similar to Vasily Alekseevich in their spiritual
outlook. They usually subscribed to an advanced,
"progressive" newspaper, purchased books with a "tendency,"
followed political developments, and didn't believe in God.
They kept their distance, however, from real political
activity. The would never get involved in anything, never
get too close to anyone, and would engage in frank
discussions only with those workers whom they trusted. In
their youths they had almost always been actively involved
in politics, and some had even paid a price. They had known
some of the outstanding revolutionaries in their day, and
they remembered them with great admiration and told stories
about them to us younger men with great pride.
These men were not attached to any well-defined political
trend, but were always glad to give their advice and share
their experience--while maintaining all precautions--with
their more youthful conscious comrades. . . .
Vasily Alekseevich had great confidence in me, and was in
turn a real authority figure in my eyes. Unfortunately, his
knowledge was extremely fragmented and unsystematic, and for
this reason he was not always able to satisfy my
One day he advised me to get hold of the works of
Shelgunov, which, as he said, were "banned". . . . I would
spend entire days during my Sunday excursions to Moscow city
strolling about the Sukharevka market searching in vain for
the works of Shelgunov. I was just about ready to give up
when all of sudden I chanced upon a secondhand bookshop on
Sretenka Street, and, just to clear my conscience, inquired
one more time. To my amazement and happiness, the bookseller
crawled under the counter and pulled out two large volumes
in yellow covers--the works of Shelgunov. Overcome with joy,
barely even bargaining with the bookseller, I paid him two
rubles and fifty kopecks, headed straight for the railroad
station, and returned to Mytishchi, holding my precious
acquisition firmly in my hands.
Shelgunov's works interested and excited me for two
reasons: first, they were banned, and second, Vasily
Alekseevich had told me they contained exhaustive answers to
all the questions of working-class life. . . .
And yet, when, with my hear pounding, I finally began to
read the first volume, I experienced great chagrin and
disappointment. The abstract language, the long, circuitous
sentences, and the foreign words made it impossible for me
to comprehend the book. No matter how hard I tried . . . I
got absolutely nowhere. Nor was Klushin's assistance of much
use to me. Finally . . . by spending the entire evening at
it every day for one whole month, I was just barely able to
prevail over one article--I think it was "The Situation of
the Working Class in Western Europe."
My teachers had always held up the West European working
class--the revolutions it had carried out, its forms of
political and trade-union struggle--as an example to me. Yet
here is Shelgunov describing its terribly hard conditions,
its oppression and exploitation by capital, its poor
housing, and so on. What could this possibly mean?
When I shared my doubts with Vasily Alekseevich, he tried
to quell them, saying:
"That was earlier, a long time ago; today the workers in
other countries are living very well. . . . Once we've had
our revolution we won't have to listen to those damn
bourgeois anymore. . . . The workers themselves must learn
to be leaders . . . and not to put their trust in
But I didn't find these soothing opinions very
convincing. The article I had read put me in a pessimistic
mood about the fortunes of the revolution.
Real life, however, clearly more powerful than any
mind-boggling theories, would not allow me to abandon myself
to this pessimistic mind-set, pushing me instead to the real
activity of this world. Sufficiently fortified by now by my
awareness that I was . . . "conscious," I bravely entered
into combat with "human injustice." I stood up for the
abused and oppressed, enlightened and persuaded the
"unconscious," and argued passionately with my opponents,
defending my ideals. . . .
One evening I returned home from work to find a "guest"
awaiting me. It was my father. When he saw me, he rose to
greet me, embraced me, and kissed me three times. In his
long, fading pleated waistcoat, with his beard grown white
and his dark thinning hair streaked with gray, he had
somehow become stooped, pinched and aged over the past few
months. . . . Coughing intermittently and breathing heavily,
my father spoke in a low voice about the village, about the
bad flax harvest, about the loss of two sheep, about our
family difficulties, about his quarrel with my older
brother, and so on. I understood that in all the family
squabbling it was my father himself, with his authoritarian,
despotic character, who was guilty, while my brother was the
victim. But . . . I was infected involuntarily by my
father's mood. I felt an interminable pity for him, for this
lonely, suffering old man, forsaken by everyone. But how
could I help him? By returning to the village to become a
peasant? No, that was out of the question. Even my father .
. . uttered not a word about my returning to the village. .
Soothed and touched by my attentiveness, Father returned
to the village [four days later]. As we parted, I gave him
ten rubles. Evidently, this kind of attention was pleasing
to him. Many years later people in the village would tell me
how proud of me my father had been. It was not the money as
such that was important as much as the fact that I had made
my own way in life and become independent. . . .
I felt solidly ensconced at the factory: the foreman was
well disposed toward me and satisfied with my work; I made
no errors in my work and arrived at work on time, missing no
days. So it seemed to me.
But one day it happened that the foreman assigned me a
very simple task: to make a pattern of the most ordinary
straight piece of pipe with flanges. The foreman drew the
sketches for the pattern by hand. When the pipe was
finished, he came up to me, measured the mold with calipers,
and declared that it would have to be thrown away because I
had erred by an inch. Then he added that I would be fired
because of this. Deeply upset not so much over the
announcement of my dismissal as over the insult to my
professional pride, I rushed to the workbench to get the
sketch and shove it in his face, to prove it was his error
and not mine. But, alas, the drawing was not on the bench,
and I searched for it in vain. The foreman's sketch, the
only proof that I was right, had disappeared, vanished
without a trace. The foreman made no effort to locate it,
which I found suspicious. And when my anger and resentment
had subsided somewhat, everything became clear to me.
After being paid off and saying good-bye to my friends, I
headed back to Moscow to find a new job.