presents a detailed summary of:


by Vikenty V. Veresaev

The Narrow Path

Moscow 1925. Two sisters, Lelka and Ninka Rotnikova, both members of the Komsomol, start to keep a joint diary. In the first entry:

Lelka writes that Volodka Chernovalov, a fellow member of the Komsomol, keeps looking at her, infatuated. She, however, merely treats him like a brother. Love isn't a quiet feeling, she writes. No, love is a storm, a bewildering sea of grief and agitation. Besides, Volodka is a member of the intelligentsia and Lelka will only fall in love with a proletarian.

Ninka writes about the 60 young pioneer children she instructs, teaching them hatred for the bourgeois, and watching their faces glow with revolutionary fire. Ninka loves the Komsomol because, "Every moment of a member's life is accounted for....In the Komsomol, everything is rational, material, and therefore absolutely true."

Ninka describes how she and Lelka went to visit their mother. Their father was a famous revolutionary who was hung by Stolypin. Their mother herself was a Bolshevik right up to Great October. But now she always criticizes the Soviet government, accusing it of amoralism, unscupulousness, and discrediting socialism. Their mother also opposes the effort to kick the children of landowners and priests out of the schools.

Lelka writes that, at her request, she has been assigned as leader of a Komsomol political school in a textile factory.

Will proletarians cease to breed? Or will there simply be coupling without any love, like among cows and bulls?
Ninka writes about a literary evening for proletarian writers that she attended. One writer read a poem about moonlight and love. Sherstobitov jumped up and denounced the work, saying that modern communist youth are only concerned with socialism and revolution and care nothing for moonlight and kisses. Ninka is not convinced by Sherstobitov, who, she thinks, is hiding behind a mask. After all, will proletarians cease to breed?

Lelka writes that Volodka Chernovalov declared his love for her. Lelka replied coldly that she views him simply as a comrade. Still, Lelka feels, it's pleasant to think that there's a fellow always glad to see her.

Lelka feels uncomfortable at work. She, a member of the intelligentisa, is supposed to be teach class-consciousness to workers. Even though she tries to lose herself among the masses and become one of them, she still feels alone among them.

Later, Lelka writes, she let Volodka kiss her. She spends a lot of time with him, but he starts to seem too respectful, too submissive.

September 1925. Lelka writes that Volodka is working part-time as a builder. He looks very nice in his coveralls, so maybe he isn't such a pure intellectual after all. His hands are rough from work. Lelka's hands are still soft.

October 1925. Ninka writes that nothing is clear in her soul. This proletarianism awakening in her feels alien. She dresses the part--leather jacket and red bandana--but still feels like an imitation.

Lelka writes that she has broken off her relationship with Volodka, saying that she will feel real love only for a real proletarian, not some flabby intellectual. Volodka cries, but says, "Never fear. I'm not a beggar."

Ninka writes that she has met an old friend, Bassia Bronner, who's now working as a galosh maker at a rubber factory in village of Bogorodskrom. Ninka visits her there and is immensely impressed with the feeling of proletarianism there. The other working girls tease Bassia, saying that she's there only so she can get into a higher college or advance in a party career. Bassia is determined to prove them wrong.

January 1926. Lelka writes that she hasn't seen Volodka for over a month and is missing him. She's also noticed that she herself often does not see things from the Lenin or Bolshevik point of view. She hopes to stamp out all traces of individualism in herself in the coming year.
Four eyes.
"On The
Leningrad Opposition"
by L.D. Trotsky

In another entry, Lelka says she bumped into Volodka at the theater. He had just returned from Leningrad where printers at Leningradskaya Pravda and at the Putilov factory were carrying on shamelessly, demanding that the paper publish the resolution of the Trotskyite opposition. Volodka and others manage to make speeches amidst shouting and whistling and succeeded in producting a complete change of attitude there. Lelka thinks Volodka smells of gunpowder and has an air of struggle and action around him. She wants him to know that she is glad to see him.

Ninka writes that she and Lelka were standing on some steps near the Dorogomilovsky Bridge, looking down on the frozen water, the bridge, the lights of the tram. Ninka asked Lelka if she liked standing on one stair all the time or preferred to mount upwards, firmly, one step at a time. Lelka says that would be nice, but what she'd really like to do is run up and down the stairs from top to bottom and bottom to top. Ninka laughs and says she wants to do that, too.

Ninka writes that she can't stand those who think and act to order. She feels the urge to run up and down the staircase, to find out and think everything for herself. She says that everyone ought to, if only for some time, be a great charlatan, believing in nothing and in everything, learning to understand all people, and becoming a mocking observer of life, ceaselessly trying experiments.


Ninka visits Bassia in Bogorodskom. They go to the factory club where Bassia's boyfriend, Mark Chugunov, who wears the Order of the Red Banner, gives a serious lecture on the international situation. Afterwards, in informal conversation, Mark seems different--merry and full of childlike innocence.

A game is started where everyone has to tell something interesting from their past. The first few participants tell boastful stories of their exploits in the Civil War. Mark tells a rather different story:

Shortly after the October Revolution, Mark enlisted and was sent to the Kazan area to fight against the Czechoslovaks. Despite the fact that he had no military experience, he was made commendant of a train station. In those days, Mark says, battles were sometimes strange. There'd be shooting for three days without a single casualty on either side. The winner would be the side that scared the other first. The troops under Mark's command got scared and fled, leaving him alone. He tried to exort them to return, but they almost shot him instead. When Mark reported this disaster to his commander, Mark was arrested and sentenced to be shot for cowardice and lack of organizational skill. He escaped death by volunteering to be sent to the front to atone for his crime.

When Ninka's turn comes, she tells of her adventures three years ago in Turkestan, supposedly studying the conditions and needs of oxen transport. She contracted typhus and was dragged around on a camel for two weeks. The Kirghiz guide ran off with the camels, but Ninka's companions tracked him down and beat him up. For the rest of the trip, they kept the Kirghiz guide bound and they expropriated shamelessly from other Kirghiz along the way. Although she did not personally take part in the expropriations, Ninka felt ashamed about it all.


Ninka writes that she does not quite understand why she awaits Mark's letters so impatiently. He seems eager to share things with her, but only in a comradely way. He is a hero of the Civil War, a proletarian with and past of underground activity and exile. Surely he cannot be muddled, like everyone esle, with nonsensical love stories.

Lelka writes that although she doesn't know this Mark, she's certain that the truth goes beyond mere "comradely relations." After all, Lelka writes, she and Ninka are so pretty, even important Party men are drawn to them.

Ninka writes that is that is so, then she begins to feel superior to Mark and maybe she will try an experiment on him.

Lelka writes that she saw Volodka speak at a regional Komsomol conference. He spoke brilliantly and it is obvious that he still loves Lelka. Lelka's beginning to feel that, although Volodka is an intellectual, he may become a real Bolshevik in the end. So she invited him to come see her.


One evening, Ninka is at Mark's apartment, talking. Thinking that it will be easier and more friendly to talk in the dark, Ninka turns off the lights. Mark immediately comes up to her and embraces her greedily. Ninka pushes him away indignantly and turns back on the light. Ninka secretly feels a joy, but hides it. Mark apologizes and they continue their comradely talk.

One wants to tear oneself free and go whirling into the chaos of life. One wants to feel every nerve, every molecule quiver.
Ninka says she envies Mark's exciting history of underground work and exile. She wishes she could have that type of excitement, but nowadays things are too dull. Ninka admits that it is adventurism, but still, she wishes she could be sent on a mission of underground work in China, Rome, or Bulgaria.

As Ninka gets ready to leave, Mark presses her tightly against himself and rains kisses down on her. And she responds. Mark's hand wanders to her bosom and starts to unbutton her blouse. But Ninka stops him. Ninka leaves and wanders around for a bit, wondering what to do. She returns to Mark's apartment and sees that the windows are dark. As if a needle had pierced her heart Ninka realizes that Mark is already asleep. She quickly turns and leaves.

Mark sends Ninka passionate letters, begging her to call. Ninka finally calls and indifferently tells him that she's busy and won't be able to see him for some time.


Ninka writes that it is interesting to conduct experiments on a man, to laughingly look on and see his brain become fogged by passion. But, Ninka confesses, while she pretends to be indifferent, Mark is in fact very necessary to her.

If you were to tell me that we should never succeed in establishing Socialism, then I should fall into despair. But about a boy?! There are plenty of them! I've lost one and I shall find another.
By chance, Ninka meets Bassia at the Meyerhold Theater. Ninka is embarrassed, but Bassia is not at all bothered by the fact that Ninka has "vamped" Mark away from her. There are plenty of other men.

On another day, Ninka is with Mark, pouring out her soul, saying that people hide their most intimate thoughts, their true natures behind a mask, and that she herself wears such a mask. She longs to pull off all these masks and to have the courage to appear without hers. Mark laughs, kisses her, and carries her away in a whirlwind of passion. Afterwards, Ninka is disappointed and hurt that Mark cared only about passion and did not listen to her outpouring. She feigns indifference.

For some time, Ninka avoids Mark and ignores his letters. On Saturday, Ninka is returning from a volunteer work brigade when Mark (a member of the revoltionary-military council) rides up in a car. He takes Ninka for a ride out of the city. Ninka's mood improves, and Mark takes her to a restaurant.

In the restaurant--Ninka's first trip to a restaurant ever--they have richly flavored sherry and expensive, fragrant cigarettes. Mark apologizes for his previous insensitivity and encourages Ninka to tell him more of her inner thoughts. Ninka says she has two souls, a higher one and a lower one. Her higher soul is entirely given to the Komsomol, to communism, and the rational conduct of life. But her lower soul revolts; it claims the right to think for itself, to examine and err, to thrust its hands in its pocketss and whistle impudently.

Mark says Ninka is just bubbling and foaming with the agitation of youth. He writes out a quotation in German for her. It is from Goethe's Faust and reads:

If thou errst not, thou canst not reach understanding.
If thou wouldst rise, rise by thine own hand.

On that night, Ninka loved Mark earnestly, passionately.

On another night, Ninka again talks of her criminal love of adventure and how life now sometimes feels like a tight harness. She begs Mark to tell her of his inner life. He's unwilling. She gazes at Mark and is shocked to see boredom in his eyes. She quickly gets dressed and leaves, intending to go out of his life forever.


Lelka writes that she's worried about and pities Ninka, who seems lost and listless.

Ninka writes that she brought everything on herself with her experiments and that she despises pity.

She also describes a visit to their mother. An old gentleman there speaks quaintly of a "betrothal". Ninka heaps scorn on the idea of betrothals, marriages and bridal chambers. She enjoys watching the old gentleman squirm.

Lelka writes that, although it is not very Komsomol-like, she is yearning for love, for a man.

January 15, 1927. Ninka writes that Boris Shirkunov asked her to be an organizer for a Komsomol course. She eagerly agreed. Her assistant is to be Sherstobitov, who, unfortunately, pays no attention.

Lelka writes of her unfortunate situation with Volodka. At first she didn't treat him seriously. But now he has advanced in his Party career, while Lelka--now desiring Volodka--remains a back-bencher. She feels that she has no spirit left and must read Blok, Esenin and Akhmatova.

February 1927. Ninka writes that she was dragged out of a lecture on thermodynamics by a comrade and taken to Sherstobitov's hostel. Sherstobitov is drunk and raising a ruckus. He loudly proclaims, "I would give my soul for Trotsky!". And this from a man who, at Party meetings, proclaims himself ready to die in support of the general Party line. Ninka does investigation and finds out that Sherstobitov is a womanizer who terrorizes his wife. He disorganizes the hostel, neglects his tasks, and doesn't observe regulations. He is often drunk. And there is his two-faced attitutude toward Trotsky.

Ninka reports on Sherstobitov to the Party committee. They ignore her until she demands an investigation. The Party committee determines that Ninka was right about Sherstobitov, who is dismissed from his employment and referred to the Workers Control Commission for disciplinary action.

Ninka's standing in the Party suddenly improves. She is called a great intellect and in daily life a great woman communist, although, deep in her soul, Ninka knows that she carries a shameful combination of romanticism and realism, idealism and materialism. Nonetheless, Ninka is nominated to be secretary of the subjects commission.

In her separate diary Ninka notes that she loved Mark but never said she did, while he said he loved her, but never really did.

Lelka writes that she was sent to a factory to lecture on the new life. She gives a well-received talk on the economic and material basis of things, including love. But deep in her heart Lelka felt that she was talking rubbish, merely repeating what others have said, but offering nothing of her own. How can she talk of love when her own love-affair has turned out so stupidly. She goes home and cries, feeling that to be a great charlatan one must have a great sadness in the soul.

Lekla goes on that she and Ninka should both have one child, to experience the soft little lips sucking at their breasts; and then they should kill themselves. Ninka responds that, yes, that would be interesting.

The Komsomol is going along a very narrow path now--a dark defile, or a forest track, without a broad perspective, with no wide outlook. There's nothing to fire up your soul, to make it swoon and yearn for outlet as there was for that happy generation of civil war and great exploits. . . . If the Komsomol does not strike out right in front of us--and in front of the whole Party--to pursue some striking, burning object, doesn't move out of its narrow path into a broad, creative road, we shall begin to rot and become dislocated in our joints.
Lelka writes that the Komsomol hasa become trapped on a narrow path, with no broad outlook, nothing to fire up the soul like in the good-old days of the Civil War. Young people flock to lectures on sex questions, but Lelka feels they fail to give serious answers to questions about the real significance of life.

Lelka writes that she is very distraught over the fact that she's 20 years old and has not yet worked out a firm set of convictions for herself. She wants to cut her throat, but Komsomolist ethics prevent her. She decides that being a great charlatan is too great of a burden for her, so she will take up a lighter load. She will become a real fighter for communism and examine every action from the Marxist point of view. Her internal struggle to overcome her non-proletarian instincts of self-preservation will be difficult, but worth the effort.

Ninka and Boris are working to shake things up at the subjects-commission. The chair of metallurgy is empty, and the professors have proposed Krassnoyarov, a famous scientist but individualist and enemy of collectivist work. The student committee has nominated Yasnopolsky, a man of social interest. Until they get consent from Yasnopolsky, who's in Kharkov, Ninka and Boris are disorganizing the meetings and delaying the election by all means possible.

Lelka writes that she showed the diary to Bassia, who denounced it as intellectual and decadent piffle. She calls Ninka an "intense anarchist of the petit bourgeois type, incapable of a communist or Leninist, a mystic type of the Blok variety, a girl with anguished eyes." She says Lelka tripped up on a flat surface over an insignificant splinter, unsuccessful love, but that there was a healthy revolutionary instinct in Lelka's soul which would lead her onto the right road.

In a separate diary, Ninka writes of a letter she has received from Mark after a year. She yearns to see him again, but insists that what she felt for him was passion, not love, and that she wants no more of passion. She will go walking with Mark, but rebuff his kisses. The entry ends with these words: "Don't believe what I've written above!"

Read a
Biography of
Sergei Esenin

Ninka Quotes Esenin

"It matters not
That lying and distorted gestures
May cost you bitter pain.
To be simple, smiling,
In storms and blizzards,
In the freezing wastes of life,
While suffering heavy losses,
And when sad---
That is the highest summit
In the world of art."
When Mark and Ninka do go strolling, he is much vexed with her for being like a snow-doll, for putting a wall of ice between them. In her separate diary, however, she confesses that she felt a great burning excitement for Mark. She quotes a passage from Esenin.

Ninka writes that they received Yanopolsky's agreement to be considered for chairman of the metallurgy department. Ninka and Boris immediatly organize the student faction. They flood the meeting with the students, even bringing in two imposters to vote in place of some students who are ill. After months of delay, Ninka now demands an immediate election. The professors are outraged. One student jumps up and denounces Krassnoyarov as a former member of the Kadet party and a land-owner to boot. Yasnopolsky easily wins election; even some of the professors voted for him.

Later Ninka meets with a professor who, while having nothing bad to say about Yasnopolsky, wants to know why Ninka had to resort to unscrupulous methods and engage in this unnecessary flinging of mud. Ninka is unrepentant, proud of her role.

Lelka writes that Ninka has a demoralizing effect on her. Although Lelka is older, when she is around Ninka, she succumbs to her influence, wants to play charlatan and claim "freedom of thought". Lelka is considering leaving the college and going to the factory with Bassia.

In her separate diary, Ninka writes that although she looks like a Komsomolka, she really longs to be a fakir-charlatan doing tricks in a tumble-down wooden theater. Boris has disappointed her because he, too, has shyly, with inexperience, sought her kisses, even spoke of marriage (an abominable word to Ninka). Ninka says she will agree to kiss Boris sometimes, but not allow him to get serious. She's suffered so much through love that she feels it is necessary to make others suffer on her account; and now it is Boris's turn. Ninka again quotes Esenin:

"Who has once loved can never love again
What has been burnt cannot be set on fire."

I shall be ruined by intellectual self-analysis and by yearnings toward unprincipled, anarchistical individualism which some folk christen "freedom".
Lelka writes that she has decided to go work in the Red Knight rubber factory with Bassia, to free herself from the abnormal, nonproletarian conditions of student life. She also hopes to make herself more proletarian and, therefore, more attractive to Volodka.

In her private diary, Ninka writes that she charlatanizes less and less and comes to better accept proper ideology. While this is a success, she's not happy about it.

Lelka writes excitedly that now, in August of 1928, she will leave school and go work at the Red Knight factory, making galoshes. The only thing she will miss is Ninka.

Ninka writes that certainly she will find her own communism, but by her own road, not the path Lelka has chosen. And in the end, Ninka claims, she will be richer in her communism than Lelka, who is killing her soul with artificial methods. And if, in the end, Ninka is unable to find communism, she will kill herself before following Lelka's strange and repellant path.

Ninka notes that she and Lelka have experienced ideological deviations. She sees it as funny that Lelka thinks that surroundings can fashion a person's ideas. As if a person could go to a barber's and have his soul shaved.

Ninka pines for freedom and her own untrammeled will. But even if she did go off charlataning on the broad highways of life, laughing and enjoying herself, she would feel pain that she was not building a positive life.

The sisters part, and writing in the joint diary ceases.


Lelka is training to make galoshes at the Red Knight factory. At first, she is happy and enthusiastic. But she is often overcome with the benzine fumes. Everyone tells her that she'll soon get accustomed to the smell, but still she is depressed. And she feels she'll never be ablt to keep up with the pace and pressure of work on an assembly line. She gets even more depressed when she sees how easily and effortlessly Bassia works.

Thus in despair, when the forewoman isn't looking, Lelka cuts her finger, getting three-days medical leave for herself.

Four Komsomolist factory lads--Spirka, Yurka, Buerakov, and Slushkin--go out for a good time. They get drunk and walk should-to-shoulder down the street, shoving people out of their way and making rude and lewd comments. They hop onto an overcrowded tram and continue their antics, making more indecent remarks. The conductress threatens to call the militia, but Yurka jokes their way out of it.
Learn about:
The daring young man with the flying moustache.
Semyon Budenny
and his
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They stroll along Cherkisov street, meet some girls, and get some embraces. But then they are set upon by the local lads who don't like the idea of the factory boys fraternizing with the local girls. A brawl ensues. One of the Cherkisov lads pulls a knife, but Spirka kicks him in the groin and takes away the knife. Through superior fighting technique, the factory lads put the Cherkisov boys to flight.

The factory lads gets some more vodka and get drunker. Yurka and Spirka bemoan the fact that they were not born earlier, so that they could have been fighting in the Civil War. They would have been heroes. Spirka says he would have single-handedly taken on 100 White Guards with machine guns to save the life of Lenin or some other Red leader. Yurka says if they had been born 10 years earlier, they would have been in Budenny's cavalry. Spirka agrees, saying he was meant to be the same kind of hero as Semyon Budenny.

Help Lelka survive.
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Eat the Beets
Though happy to be away from benzine for several days, Lelka was ashamed of how she had abandoned the work front. So she fined herself 75 rubles...ten times the amount she received from the insurance bureau for her days of lost work. To save money for the fine--which she would contribute to the Komsomol cultural fund--Lelka drank tea without milk and had nothing but borscht for dinner.

At the bureau of the Komsomol cell, Dorofiev, the secretary of the general factory cell, is disputing with Grisha Kamershov, the secretary of the pressing department cell. Kamershov is saying that things are going badly in the factory. All Dorofiev does is make speeches and pass resolutions. Komsomol members don't pay their dues for years at a time. The girls think of nothing but silk stockings and lipstick, and the boys get disorderly. The worst hooligans are Spirka and Yurka.

Lelka enters, looking for her social work assignment. It is decided that she will take over the circle of current politics from Sarapkin, who's moving on to other work.

Dorofiev and Kamershov leave the room, but Lelka hangs around as other Komsomolist come in, talking, working, and flirting. Spirka and Yurka show up, proudly showing off their cut lips and black eyes. Lisa Borovkin, secretary of the galosh works cell, calls them hooligans and says that's no way for Komsomolists to act. Spirka scornfully asks what else is there to do, except sit in the club reading Ogonyok and getting bored. Lelka, immediately hates Spirka and remarks that she's surprised that there are people like him still in the Komsomol. Yurka defends Spirka, saying that meetings and resolutions are all dull stuff. Ten years ago, there was something worth doing, he says. If they had been born then, they could have shown their courage in battle. Lelka denounces Yurka's ideas as adventurism. Further, she says: "There's no cleverness needed for being brave. Raiding-bandits are courageous, the White Guards were courageous. There's nothing wonderful about courage nowadays. Yet we still go on pretending it's something marvellous, like in the old days. It's time we grew out of that nonsense. I loathe courage."

Lelka goes on to note that many couragous heroes return from the exploits and become drunkards, bribe-takers, wife-beaters. It's time to abandon this nonsensical respect for the courageous and celebrate a new hero: The man who loves work and knows how to work, who understands that by his work he is establishing the most perfect socialism, who lives entirely for social service and who maintains comradely relations with women. It's one who, with revolutionary enthusiasm, helps to root out not only a few White gangs, but all the antiquated rules of morality persisting in our surroundings.

Kamershov, who had entered, enthusiastically supports Lelka and says they should make an agitation-propagandist of her.
Lelka goes to hear Sarapkin's lecture to the galosh cell. After his lecture, Lisa Borovkin, the cell secretary, tries to get the girls to ask questions. But the girls are too shy and they only put forth a few timid queries. So Lisa puts forward a resolution that the galosh cell supports the party in the matter of the intensification of industry and collectivization of the country, and demands the severest measures against opportunists of the Right, conciliators, and panic mongers.

Lelka introduces herself to Sarapkin and they arrange that he will hand over the circle to her on the following Tuesday.

Lelka walks home with Lisa. They talk about how difficult it is to get the girls involved in the discussion. Lelka suggests that at the next meeting she herself will ask a few questions as if she didn't understand. Lisa is excited by the idea. A friendship begins between Lisa and Lelka, and Lelka proudly begins to feel herself taking root in proletarian soil.

Lelka is renting a room with the Buerakov family. When Lelka returns home, the elder Buerakov invites her to join them in celebrating his birthday.

Drawing Lelka into a political conversation, Buerakov says that communism is antagonistic to Soviet power. Lelka vehemently denies the suggestion. But Buerakov points out that when communism comes, all sort of government, even Soviet government, will disappear. Lelka concedes his point, and Buerakov is triumphant.

Buerakov used to be a member a Party but became a victim to his remarkable hatred for religion. Once he invited a priest to his house for a baptism. When the priest arrived and asked to see the child, Buerakov brought him to a basket full of puppies. The priest made a complaint, and Buerakov was ejected from the party.

The grey coffin had burst open and a living woman had emerged from it.
Buerakov's wife, Darya Andreyevna returns home. Buerakov glances at her angrily and turns away. Another woman, a comrade Nogaeva enters and eagerly asks Darya about her social work, investigating the situation of a poor mother and child. Buerakov snorts disdainfully about "social work" which requires a woman to abandon her house and her husband on his birthday. Nogaeva points out that times have changes and Buerakov can take care of the home while his wife is away. Nogaeva also tells Buerakov that women have autonomy over their sexual lives. If a woman wants to have sex with someone, it's no one's business, not even her husband's.

Lelka graduates from training and is placed on the assembly line. Soon she acquires a new quickness and accuracy of every movement, at home as well as at work. And some new power of organizing her inner life also arises. She is proud and happy to be part of the organic collective, and she does not think at all about the harmful effects of benzine inhalation.

Yurka and Spirka begin to attend Lelka's circle on current politics. Yurka listens attentively. Spirka sits in the back, sulking. He's ashamed that he has to learn something from a woman, and mortified that he can't play the conqueror here. He's bored about imperialism, capitalism, and the economic blockade. And on top of it all, he's attracted to Lelka but doesn't know how to approach her. He wears nice clothes and gets a fashionable new "undulations" hair style. But Lelka only musses up his hair and laughs when she sees that he's plucked his eyebrows.

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After her circle, Lelka stays to listen to a circle on dialectical materialism conducted by Bassia's brother, Aron Bronner. Lelka never liked Aron, because he was unattractive to look at. But when he sat down , started his lecture and smiled, Lelka suddenly liked him. Aron seems quite knowledgeable, almost as if he knows more than Engles. Lelka is surprised to find out that Aron doesn't attend college, but is a worker here at the factory.

Lelka's teeth begin to hurt, so she goes to the factory clinic. There she sees a woman purposely pour acetic acid on her own hands so as to get sick-leave and relief payments. Lelka denounces the woman publicly and to the doctor. The other patients in the clinic get mad at Lelka, for sticking her nose in where it doesn't belong.

Lelka tells the story to Bassia, who approves of Lelka's action. Bassia says that there are still many harmful old attitudes among the workers, such as feeling they should cheat as much as they can. Worker solidarity also means that a conscientious worker will defend a vicious slut and deliberate wrecker just because she's a fellow worker.

Bassia says she wants Lelka's help in remaking the whole psychology of the workers.

One Saturday night some polishers from the factory are complaining about how difficult it is to get vodka. It's too expensive and there are no stores nearby which sell it. Also, there's no place to drink it. If you drink on the street, the militia fines you a ruble. And now this infernal law forbidding sale of alcoholic drinks on Saturday and Sunday. Some of the old polishers consider this a conspiracy against the working man. Intellectuals and bourgeois can buy on a weekday, but how can a working man?

Two of the polishers, including Ivan Zablov, go to the house of an old man named Bogoboyasin. He looks somewhat like Rasputin and sells Zablov a bottle of bootleg vodka. As soon as the polishers leave the house they are confronted by three members of the factory "light calvary". Yurka is among this group, but he seems sullen, like an unwilling participant. The leader of the light calvary, Oska Golovastov, finds the bottle of vodka on Zablov and takes him to the militia station. They try to get Zablov to admit that he bought the vodka from Bogoboyasin, but he stubbornly insists he got it at the central spirit station the previous day.

Yurka becomes gloomy at work. Other workers stop talking to him, viewing him as an informer. Spirka is upset when he finds out that Lelka inscribed Yurka in the light calvary but didn't inscribe him, Spirka.

That evening, there is a social event for Party and non-Party youth. There's dancing, carnival games, lectures, and performances. Lelka is working in a booth taking people's pictures. Spirka, dressed up in a fancy shirt, gets in line and manages it so that is it Lelka who takes his picture. When done, Lelka takes no further notice of Spirka and just says, "Next".

Spirka leaves sullenly, then returns some time later, drunk. He picks up bricks and starts hurling them through the windows. He then sees Lelka and hurls a brick directly at her. Lelka, on an impulse of cold daring, marches directly at Spirka, startling him. He lowers his brick and, sobbing, wants to know why Lelka insulted him by not inviting him into the light cavalry. Some of the youths grab Spirka, but he breaks away and smashes into a pile of glass and window frames, cutting himself all over. He refuses to submit to anyone but Lelka, so Lelka and Shurka Shurov, the technical secretary, escort him out to the infirmary. On the way, Spirka tells Lelka that of all the girls, he respects only her and that he's willing to throw himself on the tram lines for her if she wants.

The factory newspaper reports on how Zablov was caught buying illegal vodka from Bogoboyasin, and for this Zablov is now officially on the black list. Yurka is very depressed about this, because it was he, in casual conversation, who let the light cavalry know about Bogoboyasin's activities. Yurka himself had bought from Bogoboyasin several times.

Yurka sees Lelka, who can tell he is upset. She takes him by the hand and explains that everything they do to advance socialism--such as the battle against drunkenness--is good. Lelka can see that Yurka is enamoured of her. She decides to use this power over him and gets him--once again unwillingly--to agree to join a flying squad that will deploy on Monday to fight absenteeism.

You betray the state and the Party, play into the hands of our class enemies and stand there in the pose of an honorable man who has been insulted!
On Monday, Lelka teams up with Yurka to check on all the absentees, to see if they have a legitimate excuse. Unfortunately for Yurka, the list of names they are given includes Spirka. When they arrive at Spirka's, he's sitting inthe kitchen, playing a mandolin. Excited and flattered at seeing Lelka, he immediately puts on some clean clothes and offers to make tea. Lelka asks why he's not a work. Spirka says he was out on a spree last night and overslept. Lelka reveals the official nature of the visit, lectures him, and says there will be an enquiry. Spirka fumes, insulted, and threatens retribution on Yurka.

The varnishers, including Spirka, are dipping the finished galoshes in varnish, being careful not to get any varnish on the lasts. Sarapkin enters with the distressing news that the administration wants to increase the work output and reduce the pay of the varnishers. Bassia, working as the time-recorder, enters and begins timing Sarapkin's work. He purposely slows down, and Bassia complains about it. The workers are not happy with Bassia, saying she does no useful labor herself, and only tries to think up ways to increase their load.

That evening, Bassia goes to see Sarapkin, hoping to have a Komsomolist-to-Komsolomist talk with him. She, however, is shocked at Sarapkin's room. There are two portraits on the wall--one of Lenin and one of Sarapkin himself. And Sarapkin has nice furniture. Lelka thinks it looks like a prostitute's room, and she conceives a hatred for Sarapkin. She declares to him: "One must fight you as one fights a class enemy."

Lelka visits with Bassia and tells her how impressed she was with Aron's lecture. Bassia reveals the shocking truth that she and Aron are the children of a NEPman, a flour merchant. She broke with her parents when she was fifteen and moved out. Aron, indifferent to politics, stayed with his parents. He only got the job in the factory and his position in the Komsomol thanks to Bassia's influence. That was the only way Aron could get a higher education. (He would be barred otherwise because of his social background.) Bassia is sure that Aron will become a great thinker--not as great as Marx, of course, but perhaps the equal of a lesser intellect such as Einstein. Lelka is somewhat troubled by this news, but decides not to denounce Bassia to the Party purge commission. Lelka then has to leave because one of Bassia's many lovers is coming over. Bassia has already had five abortions.

On the way home Lelka sees a man lying in a snow bank, his head covered in blood. It is Yurka!

It is decided to stage a comradely court show trial, prosecuting Spirka for assault and Sarapkin for wrecking.

At the trial, Spirka tries to joke his way out of it, but then says Yurka was a snake for exposing his absenteeism. The court president makes it clear that Spirka's absenteeism makes him a deserter of labor. Spirka refuses to name those who helped him in the attack on Yurka.

The court president calls on others to speak. Lelka rises and says that Spirka had left Yurka lying unconscious in the bitter frost where he could have froze to death. Spirka had condemned him to death, Lelka says, because Yurka was honestly fulfilling the duty of a proletarian, leading a ceaselessly-bolshevist struggle against wreckers and idlers whether they be his friends or no. At the end of her speech, Lelka puts her arms around Yurka's neck and kisses him warmly. The hall erupts in applause.

Kamershov rises and supports Lelka. He says Spirka acted like a class enemy and must be delt with ruthlessly.

One elderly worker asks the court to take into consideration Spirka's family circumstance. His father was a drunken hooligan and his mother had to struggle to bring up the children. The court president manages to get Spirka to say he'll do better if he's given another chance. Based on that promise of reform, Spirka is not sentenced to any period of isolation, but only to public disapproval and a severe reprimand and warning.

Sarapkin is then called to appear before the court. He announces that he has legally changed his name to Valentin Elsky. This ellicts laughter in the courtroom. Bassia testifies about how Sarapkin intentionally worked slower so as to make the time-recorder's work inaccurate. Sarapkin says he was just being necessarily careful and describes all the things that can go wrong if he were to rush. The spectators in the audience all seem to agree wtih Sarapkin. But Bassia asks how many galoshes he varnishes in a day. He names a figure far in excess of what he could have done at the pace he demonstrated to Bassia.

Caught in this lie, Sarapkin launches into a very fluent and correct explanation of how the working class, the master of everything, must take care of the property and of the necessity of the rationalization of industry, the augmentation of productivity and the reduction of self-cost.

Bassia explodes with indignation, saving it was revolting to listen to Sarapkin's lifeless tongue prounouncing words which are so dear to them all. She accuses him of vile shamelessness and cynicism. She also scornfully tells everyone of his nice furniture.

A thin, pale young fellow named Afansy Vedernikov gets up and agrees that Sarapkin is a traitor to the working class who must be destroyed. But Vedernikov also has another idea. He points out the rather high salary of 200 rubles going to Sarapkin, a single man, while some working men with families to support make much less. Vedernikov suggest that all the earnings of every workman be shared in common, each being given what he needs for living. That way, every worker would have boots, while Sarapkin wouldn't be able to have fancy furniture. This sparks a lively conversation, with Lelka enthusiastically liking the idea.

The court president brings the conversation back to the subject of the trial. Sarapkin dutifully acknowledges his guilt and promises to reform. So the judges let him off with a reprimand.

Afterwards, the Komsomol members flock to the office to continue discussions, mainly of Vedernikov's idea. Lelka speaks hotly in defense of the suggestion, but, for some reason, Vedernikov barely glances at Lelka and takes no real notice of her. This hurt her pride.

Kamershov says that Vedernikov's idea is premature and should be dropped. He has a suggestion of his own, however: Man one conveyor with only the strongest and best of the youth. Make it a "fighting brigade" on an "fighting conveyor" to do exemplary work. Everyone likes this idea, even Vedernikov.

It takes two or three weeks to organize the fighting brigade, but when the work begins, the results are very satisfying. The factory newspaper praises their dedication--there is no idle chatter. The average daily output of an ordinary conveyor was 1,600 pair of galoshes. The fighting brigade began, day by day, to add 70 to that number.

Then the fighting brigade of Conveyor 17 issued a challenge to Conveyor 21, the best conveyor in the factory, worked by the older and more experienced workers.

In the meantime, Yurka undertakes a "fighting" challenge of his own, trying to prove that one worker can take care of two pressing machines at the same time. As Yurka works with great energy and enthusiasm, he sees five workers who are changing a roller on another machine. They work lazily and slowly, taking hour-long smoking breaks and in general acting like slackards. Yurka, boiling with indignation, says something to them, but they just laugh and make venomous jokes at Yurka's expense. Yurka doesn't waste time arguing with them. But that evening, with Lelka's help, he writes an article for the factory newspaper entitled "How Mechanics Replace Rollers In Our Factory." In the article, Yurka, with relish, mentioned all five men by name.

Are you ready for
A Political Battle ?!

Can you answer these three simple questions:

What is the fundamental idea of the Five-Year Plan?

What will happen to the kulaks when the collective farms have taken over the whole agricultural domain?

The cost of the realization of the Five Year Plan will be 15 trillion rubles. Where are we going to get those means?

Find the answers in:
"A Political Battle"
The complete chapter from V.V. Veresaev's novel "Sisters"
(Click here to read this chapter in its entirety.)

Spring comes. On Sunday, 12 May 1929, the Komsomol stage a festive Political Battle on the subject of the Five Year Plan as instituted by the Sixtheenth Party Conference. Accompanied by a brass band, they march out to a glade in the forest. There they are met by a responsible comrade sent by the regional party committee to act as judge. It is Volodka! He gives an opening speech, saying that the members of the Komsomol should know every detail of the Five Year Plan as intimately as they know their own five fingers.

The Komsomolists are divided up into opposing platoons. Each side gets to ask the other questions about the Five Year Plan. A correct answer is scored as one point. Those giving unsatisfactory answers would be considered "wounded", given a half point and evacuated to the field hospital behind the bushes to be treated for their failings. Those giving bad or incorrect answers were flagged as "dead". Trivial or controversial questions or questions designed to mislead the adversary would be regarded as dud shots and half a point would be deducted.

The questioning begins, Lelka leading one platoon, and Golovastov, with Vedernikov, leading another. The questions fly fast and furious. Yurka, forgetting to remark on Right deviation in his answer, falls wounded. The final question is from Vedernikov to Lelka, regarding the funding of the Five Year Plan. Lelka gives a brillant response, which not only answers the question, but turns into a firey speech calling for the workers to apply themselves wholehearted to their tasks and increase production. Even though it was against the rules, everyone, even the opposing squad, applauded Lelka's speech. Only Vedernikov did not applaud.

Lelka's squad is declared the winner. Volodka says the competition had been very satisfactory. The only defect was that the questions did not address the problem of deviations to the right. Lelka sees Yurka seemingly arguing with Vedernikov

Volodka comes to Lelka to congratulate her. Although he was very friendly, Lelka could see that he no longer loved her. (After all, he was living with a beautiful woman communist novelist now.)

The prize for the victors was a free boating expedition that evening. As Lelka's team boards the boat, she asks Yurka about his argument with Vedernikov. Apparently, Vedernikov had been chastizing Yurka for hanging around with Lelka. Vedernikov despises Lelka as a member of the intelligensia who has come here merely to flaunt her education in front of the workers. Lelka is greatly depressed by this news.

After the boating trip, Lelka sadly wanders the streets. She bumps into Yurka and invites him to her room for tea. They embrace and kiss. Lelka tells Yurka, "I want to be yours."

The competition between the two conveyors comes to an end. The older, experienced workers win, producing on average 50 more pair of galoshes every day with half as many defects. A rematch is held, but once again the older workers win. The younger workers become dispirited, particularly over their inability to reduce defects. Work resumed in the old way, each one taking care of her own task and not bothering about the general progress.

At the end of May, a conference is held, but there is little good to report. More that a thousand working days have been lost in the last quarter through absenteeism, defects have increased, and reduction in cost was insignificant. To meet their goals, production would have to be increased from 53,000 pairs a day to 57,000 pair. And it seemed there was no way to achieve that.

Yurka asks Lelka to belong to him legally. Lelka laughs at the idea.

After the June break, things get off to a disgraceful start at the factory. By the second day, 380 workers still had not returned. Vedernikov blames it all on the country lads, who went back to their villages to help with the field work and think that's more important than the factory. Bassia, Lelka, and Vedernikov write an article demanding that such workers should be branded labor-deserters and traitors and not taken back at the factory.

The Party, with thousands of tentacles, was worming its way everywhere, into the very depths of the working masses, awakening them.
Defects increased, absenteeism reaches monstrous proportions, and labor discipline slackened. The director is removed for opportunism in practice. A new Party secretary is chosen, and Kamershov replaces the lazy Dorofiev as head of the Komsomol. And with these changes, the situation begins to turn around.

Alekhin, the new factory Party secrtary, and Kamershov bitterly criticize last spring's fighting brigades for having lost their enthusiasm. Suddenly, it is as if a fire were lit under the Komsomol. They were teeming with life. Converyors and groups began challenging each other to socialist competitions. Work was intensified, defects decreased, and absenteeism diminished.

The quota on one line was increased from 1400 to 1600 pairs of galoshes a day. The women in the line complained bitterly, saying that such a goal is impossible. Some of the complainers are replaced by young Komsomol workers. Within a week, they had reached and even surpassed the new quota.

Golovastov, currrently a machinist, had previously worked as a last-keeper, carrying lasts to conveyors. He decided to prove that a single last-keeper could work two conveyors simultaneously. So for a month he worked at his former job. He did in fact successfully take care of two conveyors, but at a tremendous physical cost. He grew thin and pale and was obviously exhausted. Nevertheless he boastfully declared at the department meeting that he had proven his point. An engineer points out that it would be absurd to save a few rubles at the cost of completely exhausting and wearing out the workman. Golovastov immediately denounces the engineer as a sabateur. However, good sense prevails and Golovastov is shouted down.

Posters and propaganda praising good workers abounds, as does public humiliation of bad workers. A miniature cemetery for sluggards and wreckers was fashioned with mock cardboard gravestones for the worst of the workers. Young Pioneeers would hang around the homes of absentees to mock and ridicule them.

By October, the factory had seemingly solved its problems. They were producing galoshes at a rate in excess of that called for by the Five Year Plan. Journalists flocked to study the fighting brigades. They wrote glowing articles praising the "unanimous effort of the working masses" and their flaming enthusiasm.

But still, workers grumbled, saying they were being exploited by the Communists. Some said it was worse than in tsarist times. Back then, you could loaf. Nowadays, the workers are so tired all they can do is eat and sleep--they have no free time.

Lelka was not distressed by the fact that the workers were not united in "fighting" zeal. The number of enthusiasts was, in fact, a minority, and many of them did it only out of selfish motives--seeking adulation or prizes. Still, all this was slowly moving the Plan forward. And the workers' consciousness was changing to understand that they themselves were the bosses and that the deceit and trickery practiced before must end. Lelka even caught young Buerakov, a known idler and absentee, discussing the Five Year Plan while getting drunk with his buddies.

Ninka comes to visit Lelka. Even though Ninka, enrolled in an engineering course, hasn't completely abandoned her charlatanism, she is as excited about the factory's progress as is Lelka. The two sisters come to a reconciliation after their long separation and decide that they must meet more often.

Resin is being stolen from the factory. Yurka, heading up the search for the missing material, discovers a cart driver trying to smuggle resin out in a wagon load of barrels. Although the workers know that such theft of material cannot be allowed, they look at Yurka with disgust because he caught and denounced the culprit. They call Yurka a viper and provocateur. But such jibes no longer bother Yurka. If he had been fighting with Budenny, of course the Whites would have hated him. So, too, in this battle for a new attitude toward labor, it is natural that he be hated by those clinging to the old conceptions.

Kamershov stuns Lelka with the news that the Komsomol has decided to transfer Lelka and a few other members to the Party. An evening's celebration is held to mark the event. It begins with a pompous and tedious speech about the Komsomol and Marx, who, according to the speaker, revealed every mystic secret. The Komsomol members to be transferred are then introduced. Lelka gives a rousing speech:


Comrades! Sometimes we are apt to hear from those around us, "Alas, we were born too late. We ought to have been born ten years earlier when there was war on every front. Then life was exciting, then it was worth living! Everything's so grey and boring now. The light cavalry? Yes that's all very welll. But Budenny's cavalry--that would have been the thing!"

But as for me, when I think of the times we live in, I say to myself, into what marvellous, what happy times we have been born, comrades! Never has there been anything, anywhere in the world, to compare with what is happening with us. In former days, men worked for the enrichment of the rich. How could they love their work? But now, with us, we work not to enrich ourselves or others. We are, by our own labor, creating a new life such as has never been seen on earth. For the first time, labor has become in itself an important social object. My heart is ready to leap out of my breast with joy. How happy, how absorbing work becomes! That work which we are accustomed to think so dull, so ordinary, comrades, how interesting it really is! And now everything lies with it! There's no necessity now for daring reconnoitres, for galloping under a rain of bullets, for fights in the air. We must sit with a roller bending over the cap or back of a galosh, trying to make the sole fit tight to the uppers. And we must love this work, we must find our happiness in it, make it our greatest pride that our work should be without defect, that it should be quick and perfect. And remember, comrades, that in this industrial battle we are conquering not only the conditions which will make the construction of socialism possible, but socialism itself, not only some forward position, but the chief basic fortress.

The former generation entered Lenin's party experienced in battle, covered with scars and bullet wounds. When necessary, at the first call of the Party, we, too, will advance in the face of bullets, shells, and poison gas. So far we have not been in battle. But we have carried on a hard fight for production, a fight against the indifference of administrations, the inertness of organizers and the backward spirit of the people. We have understood the beauty of the task standing before us and the poetry of our everyday labors; we have felt the fascination of the daily struggle and the joy of our achievements on the industrial front. And all this, comrades, we bring to you now as an offering to the Party!


As usual, Vedernikov keeps his distance from Lelka, refusing to look at her directly, unwilling to speak to her. Lelka, Vedernikov, and Lisa Borovkin are assigned to make a report for an upcoming conference of fighting-brigades. Lisa, however, falls, ill, and Lelka and Vedernikov will have to work on it by themselves. Lelka is secretly excited about the prospect of working alone with Vedernikov. They meet in Vedernikov's room. The work goes very well, with them agreeing on all aspects of the report--about the fact that the engineers have been of no help and that the method of socialist-emulation has proven its worth.

Vedernikov, for the first time, speaks his mind openly to Lelka, saying that furthers advances in the factory will be difficult because there are few real proletarians and many peasants among the workers. He calls the peasants their bitterest class enemies and says that the work of socialist construction will never prosper until the villages are transformed. The only hope, he maintains, is collectivization of agriculture.

Vedernikov suggests that Lelka deliver the report at the conference, praising her speaking style. Lelka blushes like a little girl. Lelka gets ready to leave. She and Vedernikov shake hands. Vedernikov then puts his arm around her and pulls her toward himself. Lelka submits happily.

Lelka and Vedernikov begin seeing each other often. She loves him for his all-consuming class-hatred. But it soon becomes clear that Vedernikov is ill. He is alternately gentle, then rude and abrupt. Sometimes he falls into deep faints. He confesses that it seems as if his brain is divided into different parts, which think independently of one another. Lelka begs him to lessen his workload, but he refuses.

Aron's period of probation in the Komsomol is over, and the committee meets to decide whether to grant him full membership. Vedernikov rises and denounces Aron as the son of the merchant, who only wants a Komsomol ticket so that he can abandon the factory and go on to get a higher education. Further, Vedernikov asserts, in his lectures on dialectical materialism, Aron places his own theories on a plane higher than Lenin's. The committee decides to deny Aron membership in the Komsomol and any chance for further education.

One evening, after making love, Verdernikov is rude to Lelka, saying that he can't abide her type of love, which is all about self-gratification. And he could never have children with her because she has the blue blood of an intellectual in her, and all of her ideology is borrowed. Lelka is hurt and feels that she should break it off with Vedernikov, but she can't bring herself to do it. After that, Vedernikov would stay away for weeks at a time, then, unable to restrain himself, he'd come up to Lelka, smiling, and she'd go with him. One days she bitterly notes that Vedernikov comes to her like to a prostitute. Vedernikov does not refute this.

Buerakov, somewhat tipsy, is on the trolley. He notices a woman with a hat and pince-nez. He begins berating her as haughty. When she dares defend herself, Buerakov proudly proclaims his status as a worker and denounces her as an abominable intellectual. The conductor and other passengers tell Buerakov to shut up.

The woman and Buerakov get off at the same stop and go to the same building--Buerakov's. It turns out that the woman is Lelka's mother, come for a visit.

Lelka and her mother have a warm visit for about an hour. Then Lelka's mother tells about the encounter with Buerakov. Lelka dismisses him as an empty-headed brawler. Her mother says he's represantive of the entire working class, which has become good for nothing, arrogant, and revolting. Lelka and her mother quarrel and part coldly.

There would be luxurious factory-palaces, flooded with electric light, with enormous windows and sculptures in the niches, spreading palms in the corners, and fountains playing under the roof. There would be strong, beautiful men and women in bright-colored clothing, loving their work as now only artists love it.
Feeling depressed, Lelka goes for a walk through the factory, admiring it and imagining the beautiful factories they'll be able to make after completing the Five Year Plan. She meets Yurka, who tells her he is going to enlist in the Far-Eastern Volunteer Army to fight the Chinese. Lelka advises him not to go, reminding him of the great battle going on here in the factory. Besides that, she admits to herself, she'd be very lonely if Yurka left.

Lelka invites Yurka to come to her place for supper. Knowing of her relationship with Vedernikov, Yurka is surprised, but readily accepts the invitation.

A cleansing or purge of the factory Party members is undertaken. Lelka passes her examination easily. It's clear-sailing for Bassia, too, until Lelka rises and reveals what she knows about Bassia using her influence to get Aron into the Komsomol, despite his unproletarian attitudes. Bassia retains her Party membership, but is given a stern reprimand.

Lelka is pregnant. She doesn't know if Vedernikov or Yurka is the father. She chooses to have an abortion.


Signing up (voluntarily) for the kolkhoz, 1930
The factory committee mobilizes a brigade of workers to be sent to the countryside to help in the collectivization campaign. Lelka, Vedernikov, and Yurka are among those sent. The stop in the provincial town of Chernogriasesky. The central market is crowded with peasants selling their cattle, sheep, and pigs which they have slaughtered in anticipation of being forced into the kolkhoz (collective farm). Never before had anyone seen so much meat in one place, being sold at so cheap a price. The peasants all grumble, unhappy about collectivization, saying it is more advantageous for a man to work his own land. On the kolkhozes, they say, the horses are all skin in bones because there are plenty of masters to drive the horse, but no one cares about feeding it. Vedernikov seethes with anger at the peansants, saying being shot is too good for them.

Lelka, Vedernikov, and Yurka are dispatched to the village of Odintsovka. They gather the peasants and agitate for collectivization, describing an idyllic picture of enless fields without boundaries, sown lands without weeds, the humming of tractors and combines, the harmonious work of each for all. The peasants look on with cold, inimical faces. They ask if they will be given the tractors the workers speak of. The workers say, "in time." The peasants respond, "Well, then, you construct the kolkhoz in time."

One robust old man named Vasily rises to denounce collectivization. It will be like forced labor for the masters in the time of serfdom, he says. The idea of decreeing eight hours of labor a day is ridiculous, he says. On his own land, he works from dawn to dusk, without any decree, and that's why he has a bountiful harvest. Of the 230 farms in the village, only 22 sign up for the kolkhoz, and those were the farms where nothing would succeed, having no horses and only worthless tools.

Lelka and her comrades march onto Vasily's farm and denounce him as a kulak. Vasily defends himself, saying that he and his son have worked the land alone, never hiring outside labor. Someone reminds Vasily that once or twice he bought linen in the village and took it to sell in town. That constitutes unearned income. Lelka and the others immediately expropriate all posssessions and livestock on the farm, leaving Vasily and his family only the clothes they are wearing. Vasily quickly declares that now he is willing to join the kolkhoz. Vedernikov rejects the application, saying that Vasily would merely poison the kolkhoz. Vedernikov says that, instead, Vasily will be sent into exile somewhere remote and desolate.

Regional and district Party headquarters send orders demanding complete collectivization. Lelka, Vedernikov, and the others continue their ruthless expropriation and uprooting of kulaks. Vedernikov tells the peasants that entrance into the kolkhoz is voluntary, but anyone who doesn't join is an enemy of Soviet power and will have no say in anything.

Everyday, more peasants come to enter the kolkhoz, but not before slaughtering all their livestock and eating or selling the meat. They reasoned, "Why should we take it with us into the kolkhoz? They're obliged to provide us with everything there, anyhow." Lelka and Vedernikov prowl around, denouncing and arresting anyone caught with fresh meat. They seethe with rage at the peasants, knowing that there will be no meat, no milk, no wool for years to come.

The work of forced collectivization brings Lelka and Vedernikov closer together. Their views are identical, and they live together as husband and wife. They are a formidable couple, combining the ruthlessness and intense class-instinct of Vedernikov with Lelka's oratorical talent, organizing power, and her invigorating directness.

Yurka, however, begins having doubts about the campaign. Vedernikov sends Yurka to a neighboring village to uproot the son of a kulak. Yurka returns without having done this, saying that the target was an ordinary average-means peasant. Vedernikov accuses Yurka of having poor class-consciousness and says, "It's not merely a matter of uprooting, but of loping off the tinest branches." Lelka also criticizes Yurka, saying that he's deviating to the Right with some sort of intellectual humanism.

Golovastov, working in the neighboring village of Sosnovka, decides he will transform the entire village into a commune. The peasants will probably vote against it, so he asks Lelka, Vedernikov, and many other activists to come to the meeting and illegally vote to make sure that he gets the result he wants.

At the meeting, Lelka gives a powerful speech about the benefits of collectivization, including having a communal cattle-yard. One peasant named Evstrat Metelkin asks where the nails will come for the stable. Golovastov says they can dismantle other stables for the nails. Metelkin counters, "So in order to build one stable, you'd have to destroy 20 because of nails. Is that what you call construction?" The president of the meeting, a local comrade named Butyrkin, denounces Metelkin as being outrageous.

Golovastov says everyone should vote to voluntarily join the commune. Those who vote against the idea, he notes, could very well be sent to forced-labor camps.

Some surly peasants begin extinguishing the lamps in the room, intending to beat up the Bolsheviks. The comrades, however, bring out their revolvers, and the peasants stop in their tracks.

The matter is voted on and passed, owing to the votes of Lelka and her activists. The peasants roar in indignation that the strangers have no right to vote, but their protests are ignored.

The next day, all the livestock in the village was confiscated. That was the easy part. But now no one knew what to do with the cattle. They put the animals in some open pens on the edge of the village, and there they remained as snow rose in the sky.

Golovastov, drunk with power, goes around the district, gleefully arresting and uprooting peasants, shaving the beards from and humiliating priests. For opposing the commune idea, Golovastov has Metelkin arrested and uprooted.

A cleansing of the Odintsovka cadres begins. For amusement, Lelka and other worker-activists attend. A local teacher, Bogoyavlensky, is being examined. Things are going well for him, all the peasants saying nice things about him. Lelka asks if he thinks the uprooting of peasants is the right thing to do. After some hemming and hawing, Bogoyavlensky says it was right. This angers the peasants, who immediately begin revealing every unflattering little secret they know about Bogoyavlensky, including the fact that his father was a deacon and that he has a cow and a pig. Lelka and Vedernikov chuckle at their success in "exposing" him.

One day, an instructor from the district committee arrives. He says they're received complaints about a certain girl-Komsomolist named Ratnikova, who is displaying Right-deviationist inclinations, agitating against the uprooting and writing complaints on behalf of the peasants. Vedernikov and the other Party workers all rush to Lelka's defense, attesting that she has been unflinching and steadfast in her dedication to the cause. The instructor believes them and assumes the complaints must be in error.

One evening, when returning to Odintosvka from a neighboring village, Yurka gets lost in the snow. He stops at a hut to seek shelter for the night. There is a kolkhoz meeting going on in the hut. But, much to Yurka's surprise, there are no gloomy faces. Everyone is happy and animated. Among those present is Ninka.

After the meeting, Ninka tells Yurka that their truly voluntary collectivization is going along well. Last year 18 farms joined, and this year and additional 15 signed up. She condemns the work of comrades such as Golovastov, and the shameless way he forced the commune on the village of Sosnovka. The arrest of Metelkin was particularly despicable because Metelkin is an average-means peasant, who fought for two years in the Red Army and was wounded in the leg. He always carried on social work in the villages, and was one of the founders and first members of the kolkhoz. When hearing of his arrest, Ninka wrote protests, and Metelkin was released along with orders for the return of his property.

Butyrkin is also a scoundrel. He was once tried for squandering 15,000 rubles of the milk cooperative's money, but he managed to wriggle out of it. Two years ago he sold a large house for 1,800 rubles, which went into his own pocket. And now he requisitioned the house from its owner to turn it into an infants' home, organzied by Ninka.

Yurka accompanies Ninka to the dedication of the new infants' home. Butyrkin gives a very elegant speech in which he says the house will never return to its former owner, even if they have to refund him the 1,800 rubles he paid for it. Ninka gets up and slyly thanks Butyrkin for offering to return the 1,800 rubles. Flustered and embarrassed, Butyrkin denies ever making that offer. Everyone in the audience laughs at his duplicity.
If you're a Komsomolist or member of the Party, you must set your own brains to work, and be guided by the voice of your own heart, or you'll never be a good Party member. You'll only be changing coin, with no value of your own. Must the regional committee always be right? We must fight, stand up for ourselves, and not give way at the first shout.
Yurka takes Ninka to Odintsovka to see Lelka. On the way, Ninka says the forced collectivization is wrong, and refers to the writings of Lenin as proof. Reluctance to enter the kolkhoz does not a class enemy make.

In Odintsovka, Lelka and Ninka greet each other happily. But soon sparks fly between them. Lelka says there is no way to change the individualistic psychology of the peasants other than by compulsion. Ninka says there is no such code in Party directives. Lelka and Vedernikov say all they need are the directions written in their class consciousness.

Yurka takes Ninka back to the hut where she is staying. A Party representative is there with an order: Ninka is to cease all work immediately and report to the regional committee tomorrow to answer for her harmful work among the peasants. Yurka comments that perhaps Ninka has been wrong in her attitude. She insists that all Party members must learn to think for themselves.

The next morning, 2 March 1930, Yurka takes Ninka to regional headquarters. Ninka is expecting a hostile grilling. Instead, everyone is incredibly nice to her. They say it was all just a silly little mistake, that she is a most valuable comrade and that she should get back to work right away. Ninka is puzzled until she sees the front page of the morning newspaper. It reads, in part:

by J. V. Stalin

Success sometimes leads to self-assurance and conceit. Successful people are apt to say to themselves: "We can do anything. We are afraid of nothing!" That means that success has intoxicated them. Our policy is based upon a voluntary kolkhoz movement. We can't institute the kolkhoz by force. That would be foolish and reactionary. But what is taking place among us? Can we rest assured that the policy of a voluntary entrance into the kolkhoz is not being violated in certain regions? No, unfortunately, we cannot. To whose advantage are these misinterpretations that are taking place, these arbitrary decrees concerning the kolkhoz movement, this unworthy intimidation of the peasants? To nobody's advantage save our enemies! To what can they lead? To nothing but the strengthening of our enemies and to the destruction of the whole idea of the kolkhoz movement.

Ninka and Yurka step outside. Peasants are eagerly buying up copies of the newspaper and waving them tauntingly under the noses of the Party workers. There is laughter and happy singing. A sledge goes by, transporting Golovastov and Butyrkin, who are under arrest. Back in Odintsovka, Vedernikov scratches his head and says, "It seems that we drove a little bit too hard."

That night, a rather tipsy Yurka goes to Lelka's room. She gloomily admits that what they did was wrong. Yurka calls her a devil who dragged him into the dirt. He grinds his teeth in anguish as he recalls the horrible excesses they committed, including stealing felt boots from little boys. And through it all, he recalls, nothing ever touched Lelka's heart.

Confident in the persuasive power of her charm, Lelka puts your hand on Yurka's shoulder, but he shoves her away, calling her a snake and saying that he should spit in her thievish face.

Yurka defiantly announces that he is leaving the brigade and going to work with Comrade Ninka Ratnikova!


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