Monday, January 2, 2012

Platonov's The Foundation Pit

Platonov's novel, The Foundation Pit, is a bitter critique of Soviet ideology. In the book, the proletarian enthusiasts are materialist, utilitarian, collectivist, and atheist; somewhat paradoxically, they are also future and death-obsessed. Platonov's foundation pit workers inhabit a world which is appallingly similar to Stalin's historical Soviet Union. The pit workers are virulently anti-individualist, anti-bourgeois, anti-priest, and anti-peasant. They imbibe and spread large amounts of socialist propaganda, the tenants of which are almost all related to the violent transformation of society in the service of a mythological future that almost by definition cannot exist. The absurdity of the central project of Platonov's society, a gigantic housing complex for working-class people, scarcely overshadows the absurdity of Stalin's real-life economic plan, including famine-inducing collectivization, super-centralized and unrealistically ambitious five-year plans, industrial giganticism, mass deportations and slave labor, etc. And yet somehow Platonov's book, as illustrated by some of the strange quotes below, seems to explain something serious about the Stalinist project. Notwithstanding its extraordinary violence, Stalinism proved attractive to many Russians precisely because the Stalinist vision was so absolutist, so eschatological, so future-oriented, and so mythological. To quote the Marxist philosopher Althusser, the future lasts forever.

"Happiness will originate from materialism, comrade Voshchev, not from meaning."

"A man who's never seen war is a woman who's never given birth--soft in the head!"

"After all, we're not animals--we can live for the sake of enthusiasm."

"Sadness is nothing, comrade Kozlov," he said. "It means that one class senses the whole world, and anyway happiness is a bourgeois business. Happiness will lead only to shame."

" a year's time the entire local class of the proletariat would leave the petty-proprietorial town and take possession for life of this monumental new home. And after ten or twenty years, another engineer would construct a tower in the middle of the world, and the laborers of the entire terrestrial globe would be settled there for a happy eternity."

"Pruchevsky ensured the indestructibility of the future all-proletarian dwelling and felt comforted by the sureness of the materials destined to protect people who until then had lived on the outside."

"At the time of the Revolutio dogs had barked day and night all over Russia, but now they had fallen silent: Labor had set in and the laborers slept in quiet."

"You're lying, you class superfluity!"

"He even began to doubt the happiness of the future, which he imagined in the form of a blue summer lit by a motionless sun"

"I'll go ahead and knock those shepherds and clerks into working class shape. I"ll have them digging so hard that all their mortal element will show on their bare faces."

" the same time he felt deeply agitated: Wasn't truth merely a class enemy? After all, the class enemy was now capable of appearing even in the form of dream and imagination!"

"What kind of nerve-ridden intelligentsia is present here that the least sound grows straight into?"

"...he had calculated his revolutionary merits to be inadequate and his daily contribution to social benefit to be minimal."

"You, Kozlov, clearly live on principles of your own and are leaving the working mass behind while you crawl into the distance."

"The working class isn't the tsar," said Chiklin. "It's not afraid of uprisings."

"The proletariat, comrade Voshchev, lives for enthusiasm!"

"And why are you dying, Mama? From being bourgeois--or from death?"

"Ay, you masses, you masses! It's difficult to organize you all into the gruel of communism!"

"But I didn't want to get myself born--I was afraid my mother would be bourgeois."

"And our Soviet power goes deep indeed if children, even when they have no memory of their own mothers, already sense comrade Stalin!"

"That's enough, you petty bourgeois, of you and your grieving...Do you not realize that sorrow among us has been abolished?"

"He believed in a near-at-hand day when the entire proletariat would take on the image and likeness of its own vanguard; this, he knew, would be socialism."

"We no longer feel the heat from the bonfire of the class struggle, but there has to be a blaze..."

"The womb matrix for the house of the future life was already complete..."

"..afraid of being taken for a man who still lived according to the tempos of the epoch of he economy regime."

"..thanks to the disciplinarian calculation that is it better for a thousand men to take a hundred strides than for one man to walk three miles."

"...suffering torment over the solitary cows, sheep, and fowl, since in the hands of an elemental kulak privateer even a goat can be a lever of capitalism."

"I used to be a priest, but now I've detached myself from my soul..."

"It's no use, comrade, for me to live," the priest replied with reason. "I no longer feel the charm of creation."

"Well then?" patiently said the activist from up above. "Or are you going to stand there forever in between capitalism and communism? It's time to get moving..."

"So are these activists of yours sleeping?" "An activist can never sleep," replied Yelisey.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Hoarders is a metaphor for everything.