domingo, 30 de novembro de 2014

Fiction: Chapter 2.2 of “Mecha, Tofu, and Revolution”

With that rebuke, Trotsky returned to the position he was in before, seeking a solution to Russia’s economic problems within the confines of War Communism. Perhaps realizing he had been overly harsh in his criticism, Lenin requested Trotsky take over the country’s department of transportation, which, beyond the derailing of Trotsky’s train, was in disastrous shape. Lenin surely meant it as a compliment, despite the extra work it would require from Trotsky, who was already overseeing the civil-war effort.

“However you want to handle this, I’ll support you,” Lenin said in the Kremlin cafeteria, while dipping a vegan grilled cheese sandwich in tomato soup. “You’re my best man.” Ultimately, the methods Trotsky used to fix the railroad system — militarization of the transportation workers — did not spark significant outcry and thus did not require any intervention by the Soviet leader on their behalf. This lack of controversy was no doubt due to the war raging in Poland, which had a silencing effect on potential critics.

In late June of 1920, Trotsky, backed by a contingent of Red Army guards, lambasted the workers of the railway repair shop in Murmansk. “Your laziness is killing our brave comrades on the front!” Trotsky shouted at the assembled crowd of workers on the warehouse floor. “The Poles are on the offensive, because they know our transport system is broken and we can’t get mecha reinforcements where they’re need in time. That changes now.” Trotsky went on to outline a dramatic increase in the workers’ hours and pace. As he wound down his speech, someone pushed to the front of the throng and loudly objected to the plan.

Hoping to get a better look at this interrupting figure, Trotsky pushed his round, wire-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Who are you, comrade?” The man in question was wearing suspenders; the shirt underneath was covered in grease. He said he was the union representative for the warehouse. “Ah,” Trotsky said, understanding. “Well, thank you for your services. We will appoint a new leader for this repair shop.” Trotsky was prepared to exit the building, but this dismissal of the union figure provoked an audible ripple of displeasure through the crowd.

“Gentlemen,” Trotsky said, turning back to the group. “We are in the midst of a civil war. Capitalists the world over want to crush us like they did the Communards fifty years ago in France. I’m afraid that for Russian workers it will get worse before it gets better. That’s just the terrible reality.” With that, he walked out of the building, his military entourage in tow. Under Trotsky’s tight grip the Soviet railways were soon repaired.

It was in the wake of this success that he exceeded the mandate granted him by Lenin. Speaking before a congress of trade unions, Trotsky admitted — happily it seemed — that he would seek the dismissal of union leaders in any industry who considered the needs of their membership before those of the revolution as a whole. He was quoted saying so in Pravda, and when the story ran Lenin summoned him to his office in the Kremlin.

When Trotsky arrived there the next day, Lenin stood before a beverage cart, stirring coconut-milk creamer into his coffee with a metal spoon. Grigory Zinoviev sat in one of the pair of wooden chairs before Lenin’s desk, eating a warm bublik, fresh from the oven, and slathered with soy-cream cheese. Zinoviev was, among other things, chairman of the Third International. Upon hearing Trotsky enter, both men turned and greeted him genially. Lenin inquired whether he had eaten breakfast, but Trotsky was well aware this was not a social call, and asked the Soviet leader as politely as he could manage to get to the point.

Lenin sighed, and in placing his mug on his desk, spilled a touch of coffee on the day’s edition of Pravda. Trotsky couldn’t help but notice the paper was open to an article featuring continued coverage of Trotsky’s comments before the congress of trade unions. “Comrade, the Central Committee is going to have to distance itself from you, because of your statements,” Lenin said, motioning to Pravda. “In the current period, the most important thing is reasserting worker democracy in the labor unions. I’m appointing Zinoviev to head up a commission to see that this is accomplished.”

From his chair, Zinoviev smiled at Trotsky, simultaneously appearing pleased and apologetic. Lenin continued, “Going forward, the Central Committee requires that you not make public comments regarding the relationship of unions to the government. Do you think you can manage that?” Fuming, Trotsky chewed his lip, but nodded eventually. Lenin walked out from behind his desk and clapped him on the back. “You’re a good soldier,” the Soviet leader said. Placing the remainder of his bublik on a platter, Zinoviev rose and formally shook Trotsky’s hand.

Por Jon Hochschartner
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