domingo, 23 de novembro de 2014

Fiction: Chapter 2.1 of “Mecha, Tofu, and Revolution”


In December of 1919, the Russian economy was grinding to a halt. Conflict with the White Army had destroyed countless railroad tracks and bridges. Under a policy dubbed ‘War Communism,’ requisition squads, typically made up of a few dozen soldiers supported by a mecha or two, scoured the countryside, confiscating the peasantry’s agricultural surplus to feed the Red Army and urban populations. In reaction, peasants by and large stopped producing more crops than their families needed.

It was under these circumstances that Trotsky wrote to the Central Committee, proposing that the civilian workforce be organized on military lines. Lenin supported the idea. But it provoked heated opposition when the pair argued for the change at a conference of Bolshevik trade union leaders the next month. The meeting was held in a large hall on the second floor of the Kremlin. Looking rather uncomfortable, Lenin and Trotsky sat at the head of a long table, around which sat the labor representatives. Along the table were platters of vegan syrniki, beside a bowl of strawberry jam for dipping. The fritters, however, were largely untouched due to the heated nature of the discussion.

Fedor Ugarov, head of the mecha workers union, banged his fist on the table. “Trotsky wants to bring us back to the days of the Tsar, to military-run penal colonies,” Ugarov bellowed. “That’s what the militarization of labor means.” This prompted shouts of agreement. Lenin at least feigned interest in what the union leaders were saying, diligently taking notes on their diatribes. But Trotsky had removed his spectacles, and was rubbing his eyes with a pained expression.

Boris Kozelov, leader of the typographer’s union, was also against the proposal. “The Russian people are sick of war and the demands that come with it,” Kozelov said. “Comrade Trotsky has contributed immeasurably to the Soviet military cause. But he’s the last person who should be making policy for our civilian workforce.”

When it was Trotsky’s turn to speak, he argued the union representatives didn’t know the true danger facing Russia’s economy. “We are on the brink of disaster,” he said. “Was my discipline in the Red Army harsh? Sure. But I did what had to be done to save the revolution. And that’s what I hope to do now.” In the end, however, the conference voted almost unanimously against the proposal for the militarization of labor.

The next morning, Trotsky slumped into a pleather chair in Lenin’s office. He was not accustomed to such a rebuke. But it didn’t appear to have significantly effected Lenin, who asked whether he wanted coffee or tea. Trotsky shook his head. “Chin up, comrade,” the leader of the Soviet government said. “You mentioned the Revolutionary War Council of the Third Army, having completed its duties, doesn’t have the necessary transport to send its troops home at the moment. Why not transform idle units into a labor force? The unions surely won’t object to that.”

This hadn’t occurred to Trotsky. He worked through the implications out loud. “We could use it as a potential jumping-off point for the militarization of the civilian labor force,” he said. Lenin, who seemed to have already reached this conclusion, smiled and raised his coffee mug in a silent toast.

Placed in charge of the effort, in early February, 1920, Trotsky and his staff were aboard a train, en route to the Ural Mountains, where he planned to inspect the labor armies stationed there. It was late in the evening; his assistant Glazman had gone to his quarters to sleep. But Trotsky remained in his study, composing a notice for the train’s newspaper. He was putting the finishing touches on this piece when his makeshift office began to rumble violently. Trotsky could tell something was wrong. Then, with a crash, the car and all of its contents rolled onto its side as the train derailed.

A few minutes later, Trotsky regained consciousness. He was lying in the snow, where he had been thrown clear. The icy storm, which had caused the accident, whipped Trotsky’s face as Glazman shook him awake. It would take nearly ten hours for an agricultural mecha from a nearby village to come to the crash site, place the train back on its tracks, and right those cars which had tipped over. During this time, with the collar of his coat upturned against the bitter cold, Trotsky surveyed the scene gloomily. He wondered whether labor militarization could truly fix Russia’s economic ills.

When he returned to the capital, Trotsky accompanied Lenin on a ceremonial tour of the Soviet Animal Sanctuary of Moscow, as it was the only time that day when the leader of the government was free to speak with him. Inside a heated shelter, Lenin nuzzled in his arms a grey chicken, to whom he cooed. “We need to stop requisitioning the peasants’ surplus,” Trotsky said intently. “Until this crisis has passed, we need to let them sell their crops on the market. They won’t grow them otherwise.”

Lenin laughed, while delicately placing the chicken on the sawdust-covered floor with her counterparts. “You’re a free-trader now?” The Soviet leader asked mockingly. “What’s next? Let the muzhiks return to animal exploitation if it will temporarily earn their favor? Really, I’m surprised at you.” Lenin shook his head in disappointment, before asking one of the sanctuary staff to lead them to the next shelter.


Por Jon Hochschartner
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