VICTOR KRAVCHENKO 14 ñòðàíèöà 64
“Victor Andreyevich,” the teacher said in a loud voice so that all might hear, “we have done what we promised. The harvest is in—ten days before the scheduled time. You saw how we worked. Knowing what you do—that most of us were hungry and weak from a terrible winter and spring—this is real heroism.”
“Thank you, Ivan Petrovich,” I responded, “and thank you all, comrades.”
The procession broke up. Accordions let loose and the younger people danced. Chadai and Demchenko joined me. In the year since the previous harvest, almost half the population of the village had died of hunger and the diseases that flourish on hunger. Now those who remained had started life again. The State would take most of the new grain, but the harvest was good and what remained would be almost sufficient to sustain life for another year.
An open-air feast was spread on Demchenko’s fields and though I hail urgent letters to write I could not refuse his invitation. Hundreds of peasants were crowded around tables. The scene was illuminated with lanterns and huge bonfires. After hours of handshaking, mutual congratulations and speeches, the dinner dissolved in music and dancing. Here, too, the hope of a new life seemed to have been revived.
In my room that night I wrote my final report to the Political Department, announcing completion of my assignment ten days before the deadline. I also reported the arrest of the thieves, and recommended the removal of Kobzar, Chizh and several other functionaries.
A few days later, while I was inspecting one of the fields, I suddenly heard the honk of an automobile. I was astounded to see several big, handsome cars coming down the road. Clearly these must be important visitors. Urging on my horse, I galloped towards the machines. They stopped and half a dozen men stepped out. One came towards me. I recognized Comrade Hatayevich. I dismounted and walked towards him.
We shook hands. Then, in a stern voice, he asked:
“Comrade Kravchenko, when did you finish harvesting?”
“Three days ago, which is ten days ahead of schedule for this district.” “So I hear. But I hear other things. For instance, who gave you permission to cut the oats and barley and to divert government milk supplies? Why did you forbid anti-religious work? Are you a disciplined Party member or are you some kind of anarchist?”
“Comrade Hatayevich,” I answered calmly, “I could not do otherwise. Children were dying. Horses were dying. The collective farmers hadn’t the strength to do any harvesting. The State has received its grain in good order and ahead of schedule. True, this has cost me several hundred poods of grain. But by investing these few hundreds I saved many thousands of poods. If that’s a crime I’m ready to answer for it.”
Hatayevich took my arm. He pressed it in a friendly way that belied his harsh tones. Apparently he was making a scene “for the record.” He began to stroll out of earshot of his associates and guards.
“You’re a future engineer, I’m told, and a good Party man. But I’m not sure that you understand what has been happening. A ruthless struggle is going on between the peasantry and our regime. It’s a struggle to the death. This year was a test of our strength and their endurance. It took a famine to show them who is master here. It has cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay. We’ve won the war.
“I’m afraid your heart is stronger than your mind, Comrade Kravchenko. If everyone were as soft as you, we might not have won this war. Mind you, I’m not scolding you. In fact, I see you’ve done a first-rate job here. Personally, and between ourselves, my heart also bleeds for the poor peasants. But I want you to remember my criticism—and if there’s any question, don’t forget that I did try to discipline you.”
Even the mighty Hatayevich, it seemed, was worried about his record . . . and the coming “purge.”
In a few minutes he was again surrounded by his assistants and armed guards. The motorcars drove towards the next village, in billowing clouds of dust. I rode back home, wondering who had denounced me to Hatayevich. I was certain that Somanov was not guilty of such a breach of friendship. It must have been Skopin. Outwardly under Somanov’s orders, actually Skopin’s only allegiance was to the G.P.U., the real power in our land. No doubt he had made copies of the denunciations. That my deductions were correct would become clear in the future, when my own turn to be “purged” came.
I was preparing to leave. The excitement of the successful harvesting had died down.
True, they received in addition some sunflower seeds, corn and vegetables. But what could they buy for the product of their labor? The cheapest kind of peasant shoes at that time cost 80 rubles, the simplest cotton dress, 100 rubles. At the official prices which the State paid for grain, the collective farmers were receiving so little for their work that a dress and a pair of shoes represented almost a year’s work! Since the same regime was buying the grain and selling the shoes, and in both instances fixing the prices to suit its own convenience, it was in truth a system of multiple exploitation, with the secret police and the Party bureaucrats to enforce the economic heartlessness.
Some of the peasants might not be able to write, but all of them understood the injustice only too well. “Socialism,” they sneered. “Robbery is a better name for it.”
Several times in these months I had met Yuri. On one occasion I had interceded in his behalf with the Political Department. He was disheartened by his experience and depressed because his harvesting was lagging far behind mine. I felt very close to him. How was I to surmise that in years to come he would be among those who denounced me when I was in political trouble? I would have no doubt that he did it under irresistible pressures.
Nearly the whole village turned out to bid me farewell. Tears ran down the cheeks of kindly old Ivan Petrovich. Chadai and his family made me promise to write them. I waved to them all as the coachman whipped up his horses.
MY FIRST PURGE
Adjusting myself to the commonplaces of normal life after returning from the famine regions was not easy. The Institute classes, factory conferences, nuclei meetings, even the routines of life at home seemed trivial in the light of my memories. I was “jumpy” and impatient. After a few futile attempts to get a coherent story out of me, my father gave up. Communists in time develop a sort of immunity to the political cant of newspapers, radio and meetings; but now it exasperated me to the point of physical pain.
I am inclined to believe, looking back, that inwardly, in the secret recesses of my being, I must have begun to break with the Party at this time. The village horrors left psychological lesions which never healed. For that very reason, however, my conscious mind reached out desperately for alibis, for compromises with conscience. How could it be otherwise, when to survive at all one had to come to terms with a reality from which there was no escape?
After all, one could not simply “leave” the Party. One could not even slacken his activities or betray symptoms of fading faith. Having joined the Party, a man was forever caught. He might be expelled, which would be a disaster for him, but he could not secede. Had I indicated my real emotions, it would have meant removal from the school, disgrace and persecution, possibly with concentration camp or worse as the inevitable end.
It was imperative to squelch those emotions, to drive them into the underground of my mind. I labored to repair my loyalties. With the purge in the offing, this urgency was even greater.
Hundreds of Purge Commissions were being selected. Soon they would begin their public sessions in factories, offices, institutions, schools. Every Communist in the land would run the gantlet of public confession and inquisition. More than ever we were aware of those invisible but ubiquitous eyes and ears; of the fat files where our private lives and thoughts were registered; of the personal enemies who might use the chance to expose our real or imaginary sins.
Will I come safely through the ordeal? This was the question uppermost in my mind, as in the mind of every Communist. It echoed through all our activities; it was implicit in all our talk. We ceased to plan for the future— there would be no future unless that hurdle were safely taken.
On every floor of the Metallurgical Institute a special box was installed to receive signed or anonymous “statements” about Communists. The Special Department, behind its steel door, worked day and night, arranging, sorting, comparing. Purge time was open season for hunting out people against whom you harbored a grudge. It was a Roman holiday for the envious, the embittered and the sycophant.
A Purge Commission usually consisted of two or three members and a chairman: Party men of unblemished loyalty. It constituted a kind of court, acting at once as prosecutor and as judge. A certain Comrade Galembo, later high in the People’s Commissariat of Iron Metallurgy, was chairman of the Commission at the Institute.
Those found wanting would be deprived of their Party cards. They would become ex-Party people, which is quite different from being non-Party people. The ex-Party citizen is one who has been rejected. Forever after he must be distrusted, barred from promotion, rounded up as a “potential enemy of the people” in time of crisis. Expulsion was the worst fate that could befall a Party member. It made him a political leper, to be shunned by former friends and disowned by meek relatives. To meet him would be to run the risk of political contamination.
There was ample reason, therefore, for the fear that pulsed through the Institute as the purge came near, towards the end of 1933. It was a fear touched with hysteria. The press published lists of who was to be purged and where. Anyone wishing to smear a purgee could send a denunciation to the Commission, adding to the materials already in Party files and G.P.U. dossiers. The all-too-human relish for tearing down more prominent or more successful neighbors was artfully inflamed.
The first condition for retaining membership, of course, was unwavering allegiance to the General Line of the Party; above all, spotless loyalty to Stalin. Even the hint of “deviation” thrice removed was fatal. But the purgee’s most intimate life and his thoughts on all subjects were also fair targets for public attack. The proceedings combined the worst features of confession, third-degree interrogation and bear-baiting, with the Communist in the role of bear. For the victim it was a fearsome time of distress, for the audience it was too often a circus. Attendance throughout the weeks of purge was obligatory for all Party people, and the “non-Party masses” were encouraged to be present.
No Communist was ever informed in advance of the charges that would be brought against him. Uncertainty was the most upsetting element in the drama. You groped in the dark and prepared yourself for surprises.
Didn’t you talk too much one night three years ago under the influence of good fellowship? Perhaps one of the good fellows reported your unguarded remarks. ... . One of your uncles had been an officer under the Tsars. True, you had never met him. But what if someone has dug up that ghost and you’re accused of “hiding” him from the Party? A woman who was your lover was later arrested as a Right deviationist. What if this relationship with a class enemy were suddenly thrown up to you? Pavlov is likely to be expelled—how shall I disassociate myself from him before he drags me with him to ruin? Save your own skin—somehow, anyhow— for the stakes are life itself.
The purge at our Institute opened formally with a long-winded and painfully dull speech by Chairman Galembo. He told us that our beloved Party was honeycombed with “alien elements,” with double-faced enemies, opportunists, masked deviationists and actual class foes. Our job was to ferret them out, to rip off their masks and expose their chicanery. The country had just carried through full collectivization and liquidation of the kulaks as a class. Triumphantly it has completed the first Five Year Plan and launched a second. Those who doubt that we are on the highroad to full socialism and the happy life are scoundrels and enemy agents. They must be rooted out for the health of the Party and its great Leader and Father, our Beloved Comrade Stalin!
Thundering applause, stretched for many self-conscious minutes, greeted every mention of the Leader’s name.
Finally the purge got under way. Here was the procedure: The Commission members sat behind a red-draped table on a platform decorated with portraits of Politburo members and slogans; a bust of Stalin, banked with flowers, held the most prominent position. The Communist to be examined was called to the platform. He handed over his Party card to the chairman and began a recital of his life history. It was a political and spiritual strip act—an outline of his origins, his career, his interests, with confession of sins, near-sins and mistakes as the chief purpose. It was always better to bring up errors yourself, if you suspected that they were known to the Commission; “concealing” anything from the Party compounded the gravity of the crime concealed.
After the confessional, the purgee was questioned by members of the Commission and by people in the audience. He was reminded of omissions and tricked into contradictions. Comrades spoke up in his favor or against him. If the Commission seemed friendly to the victim, the process was normally brief and often purely routine. But once the audience sensed that the purgee was in disfavor, or actually “on the skids,” it jumped on him and trampled him without pity; especially his frightened friends and associates hastened to join in the verbal lynching to protect themselves. The ordeal might last a half hour or an entire evening. The purgee might fight back, argue, plead, offer proofs of innocence, weep—or he might be crushed into confusion and wretched silence.
Those who passed the purge were handed their Party cards. Friends congratulated them, relieved for their own sakes. In some cases the Commission postponed decision to investigate further. The rejected were ignored, and avoided. They stood alone. They could only look around in bewilderment on a shattered world and slink out of the hall, feeling themselves outlaws and pariahs. Suicide among expelled members was no rare thing.
Everywhere in the vast Soviet land, in the provinces and the big cities, similar purge gatherings were under way. Press and radio carried excerpts from these multitudinous exhibitions. All of it was ballyhooed as “Party democracy.” Sitting in the Institute auditorium I was strangely aware of the immediate scene as just a tiny segment of a super-drama, with millions of men and women as the actors, one-sixth of the earth’s land surface as the stage.
I waited uneasily, in mounting nervousness, for my turn on the stage.
“Comrade Sanin, please,” chairman Galembo announces.
A blond man in his middle thirties steps briskly to the rostrum and hands over his card. He is thin, gangling, pleasant looking and wears glasses. We all know him and like him—a lecturer in mathematics, popular because he is a little ineffectual and not too strict. He tells his life story. The son of a peasant, he began his Communist career by joining the Comsomols. His professional life he started as a lathe hand in a factory; then he attended the Institute, did research work and finally became a teacher.
It sounds like an exemplary career. The crowd is bored. But suddenly his blameless biography is interrupted by a member of the Commission.
“Comrade Sanin,” he says quietly, “did you ever sign a Trotskyist program document jointly with other students when you were taking your studies?”
There is a stir in the audience. People whisper and exchange glances.
“Yes, I did, but I renounced it long ago and everyone knows that I have.”
“So you did sign it?” the Commission member persists. “You don’t deny it.”
“Of course not. I never made a secret of it. All my colleagues and the Party know that I made the mistake and confessed it subsequently.”
“Maybe, Comrade Sanin. Still, I wonder if everything is known. I wonder if it’s known that you still hold some of the views condemned by the Party and the Soviet people?”
The excitement in the hall rises perceptibly. The crowd smells blood. Sanin’s comrades of a few minutes ago are beginning to worry. One after another they throw questions at him, with the obvious intention of “catching” him and saving their own necks. The closer their association with him, the more eager they seem to incriminate him, to display their own righteous disapproval of his heinous “crimes.” They know his foibles, his weaknesses and play on them. Sanin gets mixed up, he does not always say what he really intended to say.
“Comrades of the Commission,” he pleads, “I have condemned my own error long ago. I never seriously supported the Trotskyists. I never joined their organization. Only once in a weak moment I was induced to sign a document, which I quickly denounced. These people who are accusing me know all this well. I cannot understand why they’re speaking the opposite of the truth. .
But the chairman interrupts him. His voice is an audible sneer.
“Never mind, never mind,” he says, “we know perfectly how you Trotskyists, you enemies of the Party, change color. We have data showing that you have not changed internally and it’s not for nothing that your closest comrades are raising doubts.” Turning to the audience he added, “Who wants to speak?”
There is little doubt that Sanin’s fate is sealed. His friends rush to kick him now that he is down, to push him over the precipice into the abyss. They rise to say that Sanin is a deceiver, outwardly loyal to the Party but rotten with deviation inside. No one gives any specific information, condemning in ritual phrases. Suddenly the unexpected happens. The audience is electrified. An engineer, known and respected by the whole Institute, asks for the floor.
“I have been listening attentively to all the remarks here,” he begins, “but I have heard nothing that’s really to the point. Comrades, we. are deciding the destiny of a Party member, whether he is to live or' die politically. Where are the concrete charges? There aren’t any!”
His defense only adds fuel to the fire. Passions are aroused. Encouraged by the Commission, which no doubt has made up its mind in advance, Sanin’s associates continue to denounce him, to heap abuse on him. He is expelled from the Party.
Soon we are listening to the life story of a student, a dark fellow with lots of hair and Semitic features. He is young and his career is short. Quickly enough he is in the inquisitional stage of the process.
“Tell me, Comrade Shulman, what was the social status of your parents before the revolution?”
“My father was a tailor, my mother an ordinary housewife.”
“Shulman is lying!” someone in the audience shouts.
There is a flurry of excitement. This will turn out to be an interesting session after all. Shulman is a morose, bookish fellow who has few friends.
“How can you prove that this Party member is deceiving the Commission and the Party?” Galembo addresses the man who shouted. Evidently the interruption is no surprise to the Commission.
“I can prove it all right. Shulman and I both came from the city of Cherkassy. I have just entered the Institute and this is the first time I have seen Shulman. But I know his family. I know that his father had a tailor shop—and employed several workers. He was an exploiter of labor. The shop was on Alexandrovsky Street. I know what I’m talking about. As the son of an exploiter Shulman should be driven from our beloved Party.” The purgee has blanched. He is cracking his fingers in nervousness The turn of events is unexpected and he can hardly organize his words.
“Are you from Cherkassy?” the chairman asks sternly, after rapping for order.
“Yes, of course. ... I said so before.”
“Did your father have a tailor shop at the address mentioned?”
“Yes, of course. But he was not an exploiter. The other tailors were members of an artel. He was just head man. It was a kind of cooperative.
I swear it, comrades. Besides, I had nothing to do with it. Personally I worked in a factory, in another city.”
“Wasn’t he your father?”
“Sure, sure, he was my father.”
“Then you hid from the Party the fact that you come from a family of exploiters?”
“I’m not hiding anything. It was an artel, a cooperative. I worked in a factory and my record as a Party man and as a student is good.”
His manner is against him. The more excited he gets, the thicker his. Jewish accent becomes. Laughter ripples through the hall. “Throw him out!” someone cries. “Out with him, he deceived the Party!” Shulman stumbles as he leaves the platform; he’s blinded by tears. Everyone realizes that he will now be kicked out of the Institute, that his career is ended.
The next few purgees are fairly routine. They receive their cards from Galembo in short order. Then Comrade Tsarev is in the limelight. Although close to forty, he is a student. His forehead and cheeks are deeply furrowed. There is a brisk, military emphasis about his bearing, and his confession soon reveals that he has been in the Army for many years, has won citations during the civil war. Subsequently he became, a factory official and two years ago matriculated at the Institute. He is married and has two children.
“Now tell us, Comrade Tsarev,” the chairman asks, “what did you think of collectivization? What was your real attitude?”
“I worked in the villages, comrade, and helped to liquidate the kulaks as a class. I admit I found certain measures rather embarrassing and unpleasant but in principle I was in agreement.”
“You don’t seem to understand my question, Comrade Tsarev, or maybe you prefer not to understand it. You are not the only one who found this great undertaking unpleasant. I want to know your political reactions.”
“I have never opposed the Party.”
“Unfortunately that’s not true.” The Commission member gestures with a few mysterious sheets of paper in his hand.“We have data here to show that in the period of liquidation of kulaks you referred with approval to Bukharin’s statement criticizing the policy of Comrade Stalin. Comrades Kasarik and Somov, please come forward and confirm your declarations to the Commission.”
Many of us know the two students: the kind who study little and talk a lot. They step to the front of the auditorium and rehearse their depositions to the effect that while they were in the country with Tsarev he had spoken critically of the whole collectivization policy. They quote his supposed words in detail. Tsarev’s attempts to interrupt come to nothing. It is obvious that his case is hopeless.
I break out in a cold sweat. Tsarev’s behavior in the villages, his very words, seem reminiscent of my own.
“Now, Tsarev,” the chairman turns to him, “do you still deny your disagreement with the Party?”
“I do. They exaggerate. Besides, criticism is not necessarily disagreement. I am only human. There was so much suffering around me.”
Galembo shouts him down, fearful he may say too much.
“Loyal Party members trust their Central Committee, and our beloved Leader, Comrade Stalin.” Applause from the audience. “There is no room in the Party for such as you, who have the impertinence to deny their errors.” More applause. “Expelled.”
“I will appeal to the Central Committee,” Tsarev cries out. “My war record speaks for itself and my assignment in the villages was successful. I have shed my blood for the revolution. You have no right to ruin me!” But the Commission members are not listening. Already they are drawing out the files of the next man. Tsarev has been one of the most popular men in the Institute, but now everyone shrinks from him as he leaves the platform. He can hardly credit what has happened—to him of all people!
The fellow now on the rostrum is Dukhovtsev. He has been working with his hands since he was eight years old, became a foreman and was selected among the “thousands” to become an engineer. He makes a first- rate impression. His answers to political questions and trick questions about Party history are flawless.
“Comrade Dukhovtsev, are you married?” Galembo inquires, almost casually.
“Yes, I am.”
“When were you married and who is your wife?”
“I was married last year. My wife is the daughter of a bookkeeper and is now a nurse in a hospital.”
“Tell me, did you register your marriage or not? In other words, how was your marriage consecrated?”
Dukhovtsev turns red. He fidgets in embarrassment. Suddenly he recognizes the import of this line of inquiry. The audience becomes tense, expectant. There is not a sound in the hall. Finally the purgee, in a low voice, admits the awful truth:
“I was married in church,” he says dejectedly.
The tension is broken. The audience rocks with laughter.
“I know, comrades, that it sounds funny,” Dukhovtsev raises his voice above the laughter. “It’s ridiculous and I admit it. A church ceremony means nothing to me, believe me. But I was in love with my wife and her parents just wouldn’t let her marry me unless I agreed to a church comedy. They’re backward people. My wife doesn’t follow superstitions any more than I do but she is an only daughter and didn’t want to hurt her old people.
“I argued with her and begged her and warned her it would lead to no good. But she wouldn’t budge, and on the other hand I couldn’t live without her. So in the end we married secretly in a distant village church. On the way back I hid the veil and flowers in my brief-case.”
The crowd cannot control its merriment. The chairman raps for order but to no avail. Dukhovtsev, now having lost control, shouts still louder: “We are not believers, I can assure you. My wife is working, I am studying, we have a child. I beg you, comrades, to forgive my mistake. I confess that I’m guilty for having hidden this crime from the Party.”
Although several people come to his defense, he is expelled. Not only the church marriage itself, but especially the fact that he failed to report such a serious transgression to his superiors, are his real crimes.
Thus the purge continues, day after day. The sessions begin immediately after the lectures, which is to say about five in the afternoon, and continue far into the night. At the end of the first week, when the business has become a dreary grind, droning on with its accompaniment of tears, laughter and absurdity, we are suddenly aroused. A gifted teacher and research specialist, Comrade Peter Yolkin, is called. We know that his father is a former priest, which makes his position precarious. Of course, his father had renounced the church and even joined the Godless Society, to wipe the stain from his children’s record.
Without that renunciation Peter would never have been accepted into the Party, despite his brilliance as a scientist. The man’s devotion to his research has been utterly selfless. He has worked long hours, as consultant to several factories, in the laboratories, in classrooms. It is as if, by boundless zeal, he has sought to live down his “shameful” family background.
I happened to run into him in the corridor the morning before his scheduled purge.
“Well, Peter, how do you feel?” I asked.
“Not too good, Vitya. ‘And will I fall, pierced by the arrow, or will it fly past me?’ ”
“Oho! If you’re driven to quote from Eugene Onegin then you’re really worried,” I laughed.
Now, standing before an unusually large gathering, he is telling his personal story. Perhaps because of his ecclesiastical background, he shows a talent for confession. He has never hidden the shame of his life, he declares, and besides, his father broke with religion, publicly, through the newspapers. It has not been easy to eradicate the old and make room for the new; it has been a long and earnest labor to wipe out every last trace of childhood superstition. But he has done it, comrades, and now he gives all his thought to research. In that way, he feels, he can best serve the Party and Stalin.
“Tell me, Comrade Yolkin,” chairman Galembo says, “have you known Sanin long?”