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from the novel
by Vikenty V. Veresaev
Spring came in, bright and warm. The trees quickly set forth their bright, green foliage; and there was the fragrance of wild berries and young poplar leaves in the air.
Multicolored placards were hung in the departments and all over the settlement to the effect that on Sunday, the 12th of May, 1929, the Komsomol would conduct
A POLITICAL BATTLE
in the wood, on the subject of the five years' plan as instituted by the resolution of the sixteenth party conference.
The young folk had for two weeks already been busy organizing, separating into detachments, choosing commanders, and eagerly studying the resolutions and the speeches of the leaders at the conference in question.
The gathering of forces was arranged for four o clock, in the garden in front of the summer building of the factory club. But long before that time girls and young fellows were seated at the tables of the buffet or on the benches, while many walked agitatedly up and down the paths. They all carried in their hands little grey-blue books bearing the number 16 in big, bright red figures on the covers. These booklets contained the decisions and resolutions of the conference. Again and again they turned the leaves, studying the figures of the expected achievements of the Five Year Plan.
Lelka had been chosen by her comrades as the commander of one of the "progressive" platoons. In her khaki-colored "Young-Stormers" uniform, with its sword belt round her waist and crossing her shoulder, she sat one leg upon another, while girls and young men pressed round her asking hasty questions. She answered with slow emphasis, trying to impress the answers upon their brains as strongly as possible. Vedernikov was sitting alone in a corner behind the buffet learning something by heart out of the little book, looking neither to right nor left.
The parade commander was Oska Golovastov (the same who, together with Yurka, had exposed the secret dealer in wine, Bogoboyasin). A trumpet sounded.
"Comrades ! Fall into line!" cried Oska. He went up to Lelka:
"Lelka, mine is the first platoon," he said. "Yours is second. The third--"
He appointed the order of the procession. A self-satisfied smile played upon his lips. The young folk ranged themselves into fours, laughing and joking. Oska was agitated. He was annoyed that they did not behave with proper solemnity.
In front of all stood the military band.
A march thundered forth. The platoons moved off in step. The columns passed out of the garden, past the factory towards the Yauskov Bridge. The music thundered. Trumpets and cymbals flashed in the sunlight, the young folk, all of whom had received military training, marched with measured steps, girlish faces smiled from beneath bright head-kerchiefs, blue and white . . .
Lelka marched at the head of her platoon, embellishing it with her graceful figure and pretty curly head.
And, of course, small children ran along at the side, near the band. A barefooted urchin with falling suspenders walked in front of the band, conducting them with the loaf, wrapped in paper, for which his mother was waiting at home.
Having crossed the bridge they turned to the right and went along the bank of the Yausa on the outskirts of the forest. They halted in the meadow in front of it.
Oska drew up the platoons, six of them, facing one another in threes.
"Comrades!" he cried. "When the staff appears, I shall command: 'Attention!' The staff has been told of our arrival. It will soon appear."
But they waited for half an hour. At last, in the distance, appeared a group of people. Oska cried, nervously, "Attention!" And he waved his hand to the band and ran along the lengths of the platoons, straightening the line.
The staff moved forward to meet the brass thunder of triumphant music. At their head marched the comrade sent by the regional party committee. Lelka turned pale. It was Vladimir Chernovalov, Volodka! She had not seen him for more than a year.
Oska, with his hand at the salute, went up to Chernovalov with the report. Chernovalov, also saluting, listened with a serious face. Then he passed along the front. Seeing Lelka, he smiled brightly and gave her a friendly nod. Standing before the platoons he made a speech, in a loud, authoritative voice. The political contest, he said, was on the subject of the "five years' plan." He spoke of the great significance of the plan, of the immense step towards socialism it would prove for the country. The members of the Komsomol, he declared, should know every detail of the five years' plan as intimately as their own five fingers. In the present contest they would have the opportunity of revealing the knowledge of it which they possessed.
"All hail socialism! All hail the All-Russian Commuist Party! All hail Lenin's Komsomol!"
"Hurrah!" they cried. The band played the Internationale, and they all sang it together. The opposing platoons marched to the places appointed for them.
Lelka's platoon, and that of Oska, which was opposing it, were stationed on the slope of the meadow. The members of the staff separated into threes to conduct the competition. The trio which was to judge between Lelka's and Oska's platoons was composed of Chernovalov, Bassia (she had since long been a member of the party), and a stout comrade from the regional committee.
Chernovalov sat down on a tree-stump and set forth the conditions of the coming battle. There were fifteen persons in each competing platoon. Each participant would put to the opposing side a question concerning the five years' plan. Any participant might answer a question of the enemy platoon, either by his or her own wish, or at the direction of the commander. But each participant might answer only one question, no more than one. Those who answered well would remain in the ranks, and would be given one point. Those whose answers were unsatisfactory would be considered wounded. They would be accorded half a point and would be removed to the field ambulance, where they would be treated for their little failings. The field ambulance--there it was, behind the nut bushes. (Laughter. Behind the bushes, also laughing, sat Grisha Kamershov.) Those who answered badly would be counted as dead and would receive no point. The questions must be reasonable ones. Trivial or controversial questions, or questions designed for misleading the adversary, would be regarded as dud shots, and half a point would be deducted for them. The platoon which gained the most points would be the victor.
"The value of the questions will be decided by me," concluded Chernovalov, "and there must be no disputes, no arguing. Complaints may be made afterwards to the staff. I will give twenty minutes for consideration and preparation."
His voice was powerful, his sentences short and decided. Generally, it was apparent to Lelka, that he had gained some new sort of strength.
Lelka, with her platoon, moved off to another meadow behind the bushes. They sat down, or lay about on the grass. Once more they agitatedly turned the pages of their little books. Lelka, kneeling on the ground, again answered questions and gave explanations.
Katya Chistiakova, a cutter, asked hurriedly:
"Tell me quickly: what sort of thing is a contraction?"
Yurka, in a state of excitement, was smoking one cigarette after another, laughing, joking, flashing his teeth. Suddenly he remembered something. He turned to Lelka:
"Say. What must we answer to Frumkin's assertion that the peasant's labor has no ... What is it? You know——"
"Well, it's like this. Remember it. It's very important. ..."
And Lelka began to rub into Yurka how Frumkin's assertion must be answered.
The men and many of the girls smoked continuously from pure excitement. Lida Astashova, a galosh-maker, a tall girl in a black dress with a bright head-kerchief, said:
"Leave off smoking! We've had a revolution in culture, and they keep on smoking! You, too!"
She knocked off Shurka Shurov's cap.
"Here, you! You little red-hooded viper!" he cried.
A tall fellow twisted the arm of a brown-faced girl with bright, black eyes.
"What's the matter with you, fool?" she cried. "You've torn my dress to pieces. Leave off, citizen!"
Yurka stretched himself out, his face to the skies.
"Oy, count me dead already!" he laughed. "Shurka, put my funeral plaid around me."
From the other side of the bushes came the word:
"Comrades! The battle is beginning!"
They sprang up, laughing and joking.
Chernovalov was sitting on the tree-stump, paper and pencil in hand. Near him was Bassia and the stout fellow from the regional committee. On either side of Chernovalov, facing their adversaries, on the ground, sat the competing platoons. Oska sat at the head of the first; Lelka at the head of the second. The general public pressed round in a ring.
From Chernovalov came the word of command.
"First platoon! Begin! First question!"
It was as follows:
"In what place will the Soviet Republic be at the end of the five years' plan, as regards the output of coal and cast-iron?" Leika quickly ran her eyes over her platoon. She read in the face of Katya Chistiakova that she was prepared to answer.
"In the third place with coal, and in the fourth with cast-iron."
Laughter was heard on the opposing side.
"It's just the opposi-t-e."
Katya was desperately ashamed.
"My God! I mixed it up!"
"God has nothing to do with it. He doesn't even exist."
"Wounded," pronounced the judge, and made an entry in his notebook.
The next question: to what degree will our transport have grown during the five years, how many milliards of kilowatt-hours will the country be capable of yielding at the end of the plan?
A girl from Oska's platoon answered with a serious face:
The Soviet yielded twenty-three milliard kilowatt-hours at the end of the five years' plan."
"'Yielded'? Wait a bit: you mean, 'Will yield.'"
"Yes, yes. Will yield."
Several other questions of the same kind were asked. Chernovalov frowned, rubbed the bridge of his nose and said:
"Comrades, this is all, of course, very good: but figures, after all, are a question of memory. The principal object of the battle is to form an estimate of the political understanding of the participants, their own conception of the objects of the five years' plan, and its progress. Can there not be questions of a broader nature?"
Lelka engaged in a whispered conversation with Lisa Borovkin. Lisa put the question:
"What is the fundamental idea of the five years' plan?"
Oska glanced at Vedernikov.
"Answer that, Afonka!"
Vedernikov was confused, and said, stiffly:
"I don't understand the question."
Lelka gently, and obligingly, began to explain:
"What will be the effect of the realization of the five years' plan? Will it be, let's say, simply a matter of the augmentation of output by so much percent, or will it have a deeper significance?"
"A-ha!" Vedemikov cleared his throat. "Well, firstly: the country will be transformed from an agricultural-industrial country into an industrial-agricultural one. And the chief idea, is, you understand, that we shall then be able to display our vigour to the capitalistic countries, that is the vigour of a state that is socialistic."
There was laughter from the opposing side.
"Vigour? Ha-ha! He's d-e-a-d.
Vedernikov flushed sensitively. Chernovalov said, impressively:
"He remains in the ranks. Next question.
The next question put to Lelka's platoon was:
"What difficulties are we confronted within the realization of the five years' plan?"
"Yurka ! " said Lelka.
Yurka thought for a moment and then, faltenngly, began:
"The unawakened consciousness of the workers, that's to say, if they won't help much. That's one thing."
"And the second?"
Yurka flashed his smile.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute. Let me think! Yes! The principal thing is that there'll be difficulties with the industrial equipment. The capitalist countries won't help much, that's to say they won't try to come to our aid, and we ourselves are-" he frowned trying to remember the difficult words- " we are a ... technically-econo mically backward country."
"Is that all?" asked Chernovalov.
Yurka considered for a moment and answered:
Vedernikov impatiently interposed:
"And deviations to the Right within the party--doesn't that make difficulties?"
"Don't interfere, comrade ! Wounded..."
Come to the field ambulance,'' laughed Shurka Shurov, pulling the recumbent Yurka by the legs towards the bushes where sat Kamershov.
Oska, smiling cunningly, put the question:
"What changes have the Sovnarkom and the V.S.I.K. brought about in the five years' plan?"
Chernovalov interrupted curtly:
"A-ha! And he's a circle-leader! And a platoon-commander as well! "
The battle grew heated. The dead and wounded were failing fast. Lelka led her platoon, giving the word to those whom she thought most fit to answer, but all the time she was secretly observing Vedernikov in the opposite camp. She had wished to have him in her detachment but Vedernikov had answered coldly that he would be with Oska, and had at once turned away from her. And now with an aching heart Lelka, turning her eyes continually on his profile, with its thin compressed lips, noticed jealously that with other girls he laughed and joked.
Hassan, the Tartar, in his green skull cap put the following question from Lelka's brigade:
"What will happen to the Kulaks when the collective farms have taken over the whole agricultural domain? "
Oska nodded to a fair-haired girl with naively-raised brows.
"Repeat the question," she said.
Hassan faltered, and began to laugh. Drawing from his pocket a paper which he had tried to hide he began to read. Laughter was heard.
"Hah, brother! " cried a voice. "You don't carry your questions in your head but in your pocket! "
"Well, I meant what will happen to the Kulaks when the collective farms have taken over the whole agricultural domain?" repeated the Tartar.
The girl with her brows raised still higher answered :
"The Kulaks . . . why, they'll die."
"What will they die of? That's interesting."
"Well, they'll disperse. That's to say--they'll be absorbed."
"Disperse yourself!" said Hassan. "You're dead. I've buried you! "
The battle was approaching its end. Vedernikov put a question:
"The cost of the realization of the five years' plan will be fifteen milliard roubles," he said. " Where, so to speak, are we going to get those means from?"
Lelka took it upon her to answer that herself. She had studied that question and had thought a great deal about it. Once again she was seized with that familiar blissful terror which always assailed her when she was about to make some responsible statement, and she began:
"Of course we can't expect to get that enormous revenue from taxes, or generally, from the budget. It can only be realized by industry. And how? By the accumulation of means through industry itself. For that purpose we must first of all reduce the self-cost of industrial production by at least thirty percent, and to do this we must raise the productivity of labor by a percent unheard of. Do you know by what percent? By a h-u-n-d-r-e-d and ten percent! Comrades, do you understand what that means? It means that Socialism will n-e-v-e-r be established among us if we ourselves, the workers, we ourselves do not become giants, if we do not raise to our own shoulders a burden the weight of which will startle humanity!"
There was no doubt that LeLka was proving to be quite a good agitator. A hackneyed answer was here transformed by her into a fiery speech, and she was followed eagerly, not only by the participants in the combat but also by the working public who had stayed to watch the proceedings. LeLka's strength lay in the fact that nobody would have taken her speeches for speeches. It was as though she were simply pouring out something that lay very close to her heart.
"The question stands straight and clear before us," she cried: "Only the devotion and conscientiousness of labour can serve to institute a Socialistic state. But as it is, even now, in the first of our five years we have fallen short of our mark: earnings have much increased, far more than was proposed by the plan, but the productivity of labor has not reached the estimated level. What a disgrace! What a disgrace! Because of us--because of us, the workers, the plan may fail! The workers of the whole world are watching us with bated breath to see whether we are capable of creating a new life, whether we shall be able to follow the path there, where, until now, it has been considered utterly impossible to tread, and suddenly it will appear: no, we have not been able to. We had possibilities such as no nation has ever had before—and we were not able to make use of them! Do you understand the horror and disgrace of it? And yet, in such a time as this one can find comrades, w-o-r-k-e-r-s! who think of nothing but the ruble, who are afraid of one thing only, the driving-up of output! "
Lelka sat down quickly, and, although it was against rules, the audience broke out into frantic applause, first the public, then the combatants, and finally even Chernovalov himself. The platoons on both sides were equally enthusiastic. And suddenly, among the smiling, friendly faces LeLka noticed the pale face of Vedernikov. He alone did not applaud. He sat, with a bored expression, looking in another direction. Lelka bit her lip and bowed her head.
The contest was at an end. Thanks to Lelka's speech it had finished on a powerful, brilliant note. The staff sat round beneath a broad oak, summing up the results of the fight. The sun was setting, and the broad rays pierced the thickness of the forest from the side. The young folk sat or walked about eagerly estimating the outcome ot the combat.
Suddenly Leika noticed Yurka hotly arguing some point with Oska and Vedernikov. It seemed as though Vedernikov were attacking Yurka, and Yurka defending himself.
The staff walked into the clearance in the forest, and the comrades thronged round them. The first pnze was warded to Lelka's platoon. In his concluding words, Chernovalov said that, in general, the contest had been satisfactory, that it was a new and very promising form of political education for the masses, but it had one very important defect.
The question concerning deviations to the Right had not been solved: it had not even been touched upon. One comrade, Vedernikov, had tried to remind them of it. That did him credit. At this time to forget about leanings to the Right meant completely to ignore the class-problem.
That which the Right proposed, was not really an amendment of the five years' plan but the denial of it. Therefore the study of the five years' plan must be inseparably connected with the exposure of the ideas of those who deviated to the Right.
All was over. They began to separate. Chernovalov sought out Lelka with his eyes. He discovered her and came up to her with outstretched hand, smiling warmly. He praised her speech, saying:
"Bravo, Lelka! You've made a big step forward. Your speech enriched and animated the whole affair."
He looked at her with friendly kindness, and asked about her work at the factory. But even in the remotest depths of his eyes there was no longer any trace of that attentive, secretly-suffering tenderness which Lelka had been accustomed to see in them. She knew that he was iving, now, with a beautiful woman novelist, a communist, of course. Volodka would never have descended to love anybody not belonging to the party.
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by V.V. Veresaev
Their love was at an end, forever. For him it was a disease out-lived. And a long time ago it was said that when love was really past it n-e-v-e-r returned.
Leika smiled amiably and gave her hand to Chernovalov.
"My comrades are waiting for me!" she said. "So long. I'm glad to have seen you."
And she ran away.
The prize for the victory was a boating expedition free of charge that evening.
Translated by: Juliet Soskice
Veresaev, Vikenty Vikentevich. Pen-name of V.V. Smidovich, born on 16 January 1867 in Tula into a large family. His father was a doctor and social activist.
The young Veresaev studied at the Tula Classical Gymnasium, where he was an outstanding student, excelling particularly in ancient languages. He began to write poetry at age 13.
Upon graduation from the gymnasium in 1884, Veresaev enrolled in the history faculty of Petersburg University. Completing the course in 1888, he then undertook medical studies at Derptskii University. In addition to his studies, Veresaev continued to write. His first published work was . . . . (...Continued...)