Andrei Platonov

Description: body gets weak without truth.Description:

In a dusty little town, a worker named Voshchev is fired from his job at a small machine factory. The management says he just stands around thinking while everyone else is working. Voshchev tries to defend himself, saying that he is trying to work out a plan for life, a way of achieving happiness and spiritual meaning which would raise productivity. The trade union committee is unimpressed, saying that "Happiness will come from materialism, not from meaning." Further, they ask, "What if we all suddenly get carried away thinking--who will be left to act?"

Voshchev protests, saying, "If they don't think, people act senselessly!"

Having nowhere to go, Voshchev sets off wandering down the road. He comes upon an isolated road keeper's house. The roadkeeper and his wife are loudly arguing in front of their young child, who takes it all in silently. Voshchev rebukes the couple for forgetting what's essential and for not respecting their child, who, after all, will be around long after they are gone. The roadkeeper rudely tells Voshchev to continue on his way. Voshchev resolves to work out the secret of life and return someday to relate it to the child.

Voshchev continues down the road. He feels his body going weak without the truth. He needs to know the exact structure of the entire world and what it is he should aim for.

Voshchev reaches another town. He witnesses a cripple who has lost both legs harass a blacksmith into giving him some tobacco. The cripple is named Zhachev.

Description: She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes.A column of young Pioneer girls goes marching by. Voshchev watches them with a feeling of shame, thinking that they probably know and feel more than he does. Zhachev also watches the girls. Thinking that Zhachev might intend harm to the girls, Voshchev tells him to move off. Zhachev snarls at Voshchev with brutal scorn. It's obvious to Zhachev that Voshchev never fought in a war, and he notes, "A man who's never seen war is like a woman who's never given birth--soft in the head!"

Feeling isolated, Voshchev finds a grassy field and lies down to sleep in it. Around midnight, he is awakened by a man with a scythe, who is mowing down the thick grass. The man tells Voshchev that this empty space has now become a building site and stone buildings will soon be erected.

On the advice of the man with the scythe, Voshchev finds a workers barracks, full of exhausted, sleeping men. Voshchev lies down among them to sleep.

In the morning, the workers size up Voshchev's unimpressive physique. They are uninterested when he says, "My body gets weak without truth."

After breakfast, a trade union representative arrives to give the men a tour of the town, so they can see the significance of the work they are to undertake. They will be building the All-Proletarian Home, a single edifice large enough to house the whole of the local proletariat. The representative has brought a brass band for the occasion. Comrade Safronov, the most politically active of the workers, however, angrily tells the trade union representative that they don't need a band or a tour to raise their consciousness. They know about the squalor on their own. He calls the representative a toady.

The men go out to the new-mown field and begin to dig a foundation pit, which had been marked out by an engineer, to whose resourceful, attentive mind the world had always yielded; and if matter always yielded to precision and perseverance, this meant that it must be barren and dead.

Voshchev works at a much slower pace than the most of the men. Only one weak and emaciated man, Kozlov, works at a slower pace. The other men taunt Kozlov because he masturbates under the covers at night.

After six hours of labor, the engineer says that because it is Saturday, it is time to stop. Safronov on the others, however, saying they have enough energy and enthusiasm, insist on working more.

That night, while the workers are sleeping, Prushevsky, the work supervisor for the All-Proletarian Home, comes to examine the foundation pit. In a year's time, the entire local proletariat will leave the old town and take up residence in the monumental new home. Despite his knowledge, Prushevsky feels that something is preventing him from understanding anything further about life, about the soul. There is no one who really needs him. He is useful to people, but doesn't make anyone happy. In place of hope, all he has now is endurance. So he decides to kill himself. But first he has to write a letter to his sister.

The next morning, digging continues. Pashkin, the chairman of the Regional Trades Union Council, shows up and reprimands the men for working too slowly. Prushevsky arrives up with some more workers. They're all basically unfit--drifters or reeducated former bureaucrats--but there is a shortage of proletarians, so they're set to work.

One of the workers, Chiklin sees that nearby there is a gully which is pretty much the right size for them to use as the foundation pit. He makes this suggestion. After all, it would save them some work. Safronov wants to know where Chiklin gets off thinking up things the educated people haven't thought of. All Chiklin can say in defense is, "When you've nothing to live for, you get to thinking inside your head." Prushevsky, who is basically indifferent to things now that he expects to die soon, orders the men to take some soil samples from the gully.

Voshchev brings soil samples to Prushevsky. He asks the engineer if he knows what nature's all about, how the world was constructed. Prushevsky says he was taught only about the dead bits of this and that, never about the inside of anything or about things as a whole.

Free both of hope and of any desire for satisfaction, Prushevsky spends longer than usual examining the soil samples. "All he wanted was to busy himself with objects and structures, so that they, rather than friendship and personal attachments, would fill his mind and his empty heart."

Description: the time of the Revolution, dogs howled day and night all over RussiaDescription:

Zhachev hobbles over to Pashkin's house to collect his regular ration. He crudely abuses Pashkin and Pashkin's wife the whole time. Pashkin's wife is irritated but doesn't say anything, remembering that Zhachev once denounced Pashkin to the Regional Party Committee. Pashkin was cleared, but the investigation dragged on for months, and a big to-do was made over Pashkin's name and patronymic--"Leon Ilych" ("Just whose side is he on?" some asked.)

Zhachev goes off to the workers' barracks and eats some kasha with the men, mainly to demonstrate his equality with the others.

Safronov looks at the bleak landscape and wonders, "why do the fields all look so dreary? Does the world have nothing inside but sorrow?"

Voshchev complains that all they do is dig and sleep. He thinks he would be better off begging around the collective farms. He says, "Without truth I feel ashamed to be alive."

Safronov tries to sympathize with Voshchev, but, he ponders, "Was it not the case that the truth was simply a class enemy? Nowadays, after all, the class enemy was quite capable of sidling its way into your imagination and even your dreams."

Prushevsky, frightened and sad at home, comes to the barracks and sleeps with the workers.

In the morning, Kozlov is shocked to see that Prushevsky--a man from the leadership--is sleeping with the common workers. Kozlov sees this as a violation of the social order and threatens to complain.

Dutch Tiles
Description: She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes.

The History of Dutch Tiles
and How to Make Them

In talking with Chiklin, Prushevsky recalls a girl he saw many years ago in the pre-Revolutionary days. He can't recall what she looked like, but remembers taking a liking to her as she passed him by, never stopping. Prushevsky wishes he could see this girl again. Chiklin says the girl was probably the daughter of the Dutch-tile factory boss. Chiklin had had his own run-in with this girl when he was working at the factory. One day, she came up to him and kissed him. Thinking her brazen, Chiklin did not respond and just kept walking past her. Prushevsky and Chiklin suppose that by now this girl has grown old and blotchy.

Kozlov decides to go to the Social Security office to get himself an invalid's pension. That way, he will have more free time to keep an eye on everything so as to keep society safe from harm and make sure there aren't any petty-bourgeois uprisings. Safronov brands Kozlov a " unprincipled opportunist bent on abandoning the working masses." Kozlov shoots back that Safronov is a wrecker who tried to undermine collectivization by once inciting a poor peasant to slaughter and eat a cock. Safronov ignores this and walks away. "He didn't much like it when people denounced him."

Work on the foundation pit continues. Worn out by the heavy labor, Voshchev is more resigned to his situation. "He contented himself with going out on his days off and collecting all kinds of unfortunate little scraps of nature as documentary proof that the world had been created without a plan, as evidence of the melancholia in every living breath." He tells Safronov that he wants truth so as to increase the productivity of labor. Safronov admonishes him that what the proletariat really lives for is enthusiasm for labor. Chiklin goes to the old Dutch-tile factory, which is abandoned and falling apart. In a remote part of the factory he finds the boss's daughter, who had kissed him so many years ago. She is now a toothless old hag on the brink of death. She is being tended to by her young daughter, named Nastya. The woman (Julia) tells Nastya never to reveal her bourgeois origins. Nastya falls asleep. Chiklin creeps up and kisses Julia, who dies.

Chiklin brings Nastya to live in the barracks. He then brings Prushevsky to the Dutch-tile factory and shows him the dead Julia. Prushevsky is unmoved. In fact, he doesn't even recognize the woman as the young girl he saw long ago. But, he notes, "I never recognized people I loved once I'd got intimate with them--I just yearned for them from a distance."

Chiklin respectfully covers the doorway to the old woman's room with bricks and chunks of rock. "The dead are people, too", he says.

That evening, the men turn their attention to Nastya who is now in their midst. Zhachev secretly decides that once the girl and other children are grown up a bit, he will kill all the local adults--most of whom are egoists and future bloodsuckers.

Safronov questions Nastya about her parents. But Nastya, remembering her mother's warning, says only that when there were bourgeoisie she wasn't born because she didn't want to be; but as soon as Lenin came along, she was happy to be born. Safronov happily concludes, "If kids can forget their own mothers but still have a sense of comrade Lenin, then Soviet power really is here to stay!"

Nastya falls asleep. All the men decide to start working a hour earlier tomorrow on the foundation pit, so that the new home will sooner become a reality and "underage personnel" such as Nastya can be protected. Zhachev approves of the idea, telling the workers, "You're going to wind up stiffs whatever you why not love something small and living and flog yourself to death with labor? Do something decent for once!"

Description:'s our coffins that keep us alive--they're all we've got left.Description:

While digging in the gully, the workers unearth 100 empty coffins. Chiklin gives two to Nastya--one for a bed and the other to keep her toys and whatnot in. The next day, a peasant named Yelisey shows up demanding that the coffins be returned to his village. They were all properly measured and premade for the people in his village, including the children. "It's our coffins that keep us alive--they're all we've got left", he says.

The 98 remaining coffins are tied together in one long line and Yelisey hauls them off by himself. Some time later, Voshchev sets off down the road, following the trail left by the coffins.

Kozlov shows up at the construction site, wearing a three-piece suit and arriving in a car driven by Pashkin. Since leaving the barracks and getting his grade-one pension, Kozlov has become a known and respected active force in society. Each morning, he memorizes little formulae, slogans, lines of poetry, quotes from official documents, etc. Then he goes out and about, uttering these phases in public places and thereby inciting respect and terror. Enigmatically criticizing a food cooperative, he suddenly found himself appointed Chairman of the cooperative's Trade Union Council.

At the foundation pit, Pashkin informs the workers that the peasants in the nearby village are longing for a collective farm. It is decided to send Safronov and Kozlov to the village to keep the blaze of class struggle burning hot.

The foundation pit is complete. All that remains is to fill it in with rubble. Pashkin, however, decides that it's not big enough, since socialist women will soon be brimming with freshness and the entire surface of the earth will soon be swarming with infant persons. The town boss authorizes making the pit four times bigger. On his own initiative, Pashkin decides to make it six times bigger.

Voshchev and a sub-kulak return from the village with the news that Safronov and Kozlov died in a hut. They take Nastya's two coffins to bury them in. Nastya is angry and doesn't understand why the dead get to have the coffins. Chiklin explains, "Once people die, they get to be special."

Chiklin and Voshchev take the coffins to the village, where everything is steeped in the decrepitude of poverty. In the village, the local activist (a bungling and incompetent but nonetheless enthusiastic organizer) tells Chiklin to go to the village Soviet and stand guard over Kozlov and Safronov's corpses, to prevent them from being defiled by a kulak.

When he gets to the village soviet, Chiklin sees that his comrades died of ghastly wounds.

Comrade, Come Join Us
on the Kolkhoz!

Description: She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes.

What Happened,
the Impact, and
the Ukrainian Famine

In the morning, the Yelisey and a yellow-eyed peasant come to wash the bodies. Chiklin asks who killed his comrades. The peasants say they don't know. Not satisfied with this answer, Chiklin punches the yellow-eyed peasant. The peasant willingly takes the beating, hoping to receive some serious injury and so win entitlement to a poor peasant's right to life.

Chiklin winds up killing the peasant.

Another peasant mysteriously turns up dead. The village activist identifies the new corpse as the peasant element responsible for the deadly wrecking of Kozlov and Safronov. The activist is confident he would have unmasked this peasant in about thirty minutes anyway.

The activist is glad that there are two dead peasants, saying, "The Center would never have believed me if I said there was one murderer. But two's another matter altogether--that's an entire kulak class and organization."

After the dead are buried, Chiklin receives a letter from Prushevsky. He informs Chiklin that Nastya has started attending nursery school. Nastya herself traced out this message:


The next morning, the activist gathers together the fifty or so rag-tag members of the collective farm. He plans to march them, in star formation, through neighboring villages, where people are still clinging to their private holdings. The weather is dank and windy, and the activist grumbles, "So much for the organization of nature."

The activist had received no directives the previous evening, so he is terrified both of overlooking something and of being overzealous. He had so far collectivized only the village horses, although he agonized over the solitary cows, sheep, etc., since in the hands of a rampant kulak, even a goat could be a level of capitalism.

After the collective farmers set off on their parade, the collectivized horses--on their own initiative and with no human involvement--set off to a ravine to drink and wash themselves. Then they march back into the village and gather up mouthfuls of food. Together they march back into the collective farm yard, drop all the food into a common pile, and only then begin to eat.

Voshchev and Chiklin enter a hut and find a feeble old man lying motionless on a bench. He claims that his soul has left him ever since his horse was collectivized.

In a second hut they find a man lying in a coffin. For several weeks now he has been trying to die, and now, in front of Voshchev and Chiklin, he finally succeeds, and his body goes cold.

Counterrevolutionary Letter!
Description: Ouch!.

The Death of the Hard Sign
and Other Adventures in
Russian Orthographics

Later, Voshchev and Chiklin attend a literacy lesson for women and girls, taught by the activist. Strangely, he has the women write all "good", socialist words with a hard sign (tvordii znak) at the end (
in violation of the orthographic reform promulgated by the Bolsheviks--ed.). As the activist sees it, "We can't do without the hard sign--it makes a slogan tough and precise. It's the soft sign that should be abolished."

The activist wants a light for his pipe. Chiklin offers to get it for him. Chiklin takes the pipe and goes to the dilapidated church. There he finds the former priest, sitting on the pulpit smoking. The priest says, however, that he has renounced his soul and is doing probation before he can join the Atheist Club. He spends his days in the church selling candles and making a list of anyone who crosses themselves or bows down before the heavenly powers. The list is then handed over to the activist.

Just on principle, Chiklin punches the priest. The priest collapses to the floor and starts praying and crossing himself.

The activist has Chiklin and Voshchev start making a raft. As they work, the activist gathers all the organized and unorganized peasants together. He announces that the kulaks are about to be liquidated as a class, to wit, they are to be put on the raft and sent off down the river.

The activist draws up a list of those to be liquidated, and he writes a resolution on the matter. He is unable to use commas, since there had been none in the original directive.

The middle-peasant women weep and wail. An old ploughman named Ivan Semyonovich Krestinin kisses the saplings in his orchard, then rips them out by the roots, saying, "These trees are my own flesh, and my flesh must suffer now--it doesn't want to be taken prisoner and collectivized."

Expecting the collectivization, many peasants stopped feeding their horses long ago. One such horse stands in her stall, almost--but not quite--dead on her feet. Some dogs come in and start gnawing on her feet. Pain keeps her alive, as does hunger when someone waves hay in front of her nostrils.

All other livestock animals were slaughtered and eaten so as not to be collectivized. Some of the peasants had become bloated from all this meat eating and were lumbering around like sheds. Others couldn't stop vomiting.

The night is so foul that Chiklin has to stop working on the raft. Voshchev stops, too, grown weak from lack of ideology.

The activist calls the kulaks together and gives them a last chance to say their farewells. The peasants emotionally hug and kiss everyone--most of them total strangers--as if they were dearest friends and closest relatives. One of them remarks, "We lived like swine, but we're dying in good conscience."

Announcing that they are ready, the peasants say, "We can't feel anything--all that's left inside us is dust." Voshchev happily responds, "Now you're like me--I'm nothing, too."

Everyone falls asleep.

When Chiklin awakens, he sees that Prushevsky has arrived, sent by Pashkin as a cadre of the cultural revolution. Along with him have come Zhachev and Nastya.

Yelisey takes Chiklin and Nastya to see the collective farm's only hired farm laborer (proletarian)--a blacksmith's hammerer, who, it turns out, is in fact a bear. The bear is apparently adept at sniffing out kulaks. Chiklin, Nastya, and the bear set out in a snowstorm to find kulaks. The bear finds a family of them in a hut--a man, a woman, and little boy, who is sitting on a potty. The bear growls and Chiklin orders the kulaks out. Curious, the bear sits down on the potty to try it out, but feels uncomfortable.

Chiklin, Nastya, and the bear continue on and find another kulak. They toss him out of his hut, liquidating him. The kulak shouts back, "It's me today, but it'll be you tomorrow. And that's how it'll be--the only person who'll ever reach Socialism is that leader of yours!"

Chiklin and the bear liquidate various other kulaks then return to the collective farm. Prushevsky has completed the raft. The kulaks are loaded onto the raft and sent floating down the river.

The activist sets up a loudspeaker in the yard and plays music. The peasants from the collective farm--as well as peasants from nearby villages who were ordered to attend--begin dancing. Even the collectivized horses kick up their heels in the fun.

In the merriment, one peasant calls the USSR a saucy, canny wench. Zhachev whacks the peasant and tells him, "Don't you dare think anything that comes into your head. The now-frightened peasant responds, "I'll never think anything again, comrade cripple."

The music stops, and a voice over the loudspeaker announces, "You must all lay in stocks of willow bark!" The activist takes note of this and prepares for the upcoming willow bark campaign.

The radio breaks down. The peasants, however, keep singing on their own. To put an end to the party, Zhachev resorts to peasant-tipping, knocking them over one-by-one and in groups.

Voshchev walks around the village gathering up all sorts of wretched little cast-off objects. He brings them to the activist so he can catalog them--all the forgotten bits and pieces that had no name or identity, so Socialism could avenge them. These were the material remains of the lost people who, like Voshchev, had lived without truth and who had perished before the final victory. Making lists of these items, Voshchev hoped, would avenge those lost, dead people through the organization of eternal human meaning.

Visit Lenin and his Masoleum
Description: Zzzzzz....
The Lenin Masoleum -
Photos, Documents, Articles
and a
Virtual Tour of the Masoleum

Chiklin feels sorry for these nameless dead and asks Prushevsky if the success of higher science will be able to resurrect people back after they've decomposed. Prushevsky says, "No", but Zhachev immediately calls him a liar, saying that "Marxism can do everything" and noting that Lenin, entombed in Red Square, is merely waiting for science to come and resurrect him.

For some reason, the bear wakes up in the middle of the night begins hammering away and roaring as if in song. Because of this, no on can get any sleep.

In the morning, the bear is still hammering away. Everyone gathers to watch him work. Working in a frenzy, he is pounding way too hard. The peasants tell him to ease up, otherwise the metal will be too brittle and break easily. The bear merely roars angrily, and the peasants back off fearfully. Chiklin is helping the bear, but he doesn't know what he's doing either.

Worried about the great waste of iron, Yelisey and the other peasants finally overcome their hesitation and take over the work, doing it the right way. Even Voshchev joins in, forgetting himself in the patience of labor.

The only one who stays aloof from the common labor is Prushevsky. He chooses a definite date and time for his death, for there is nothing that could overcome the impoverishment of his soul.

An eager young woman, hungry for knowledge of the world, comes up to Prushevsky and asks if he has come to teach them the cultural revolution. He sighs, agrees, and goes off with her.

The members of the collective farm burn up all the coal and use all the iron in making useful objects. The bear collapses and falls asleep. Voshchev, now that he has stopped working, begins thinking again. Chiklin angrily tosses Voshchev down on the ground next to the bear, telling him to lie down and shut up. He says, "The bear just lies there and breathes, so why can't you? The proletariat gets on with life, but you're too scared. You bastard!"

The activist receives a dispatch from Provincial Headquarters, warning that the middle peasants' eagerness to join the collective might be an indication of some secret plot being hatched by sub-kulak forces to wash away the leadership. The directive points to the activist at the General Line Collective Farm, who, it says, has fallen into the leftist quagmire of rightist opportunism. It says the collective activist was aspiring to a higher form beyond the collective and the commune. Such an activist, the provincial leaders say, is undoubtedly a wrecker and an objective enemy of the proletariat. The activist weeps.

Nastya wakes up, feeling cold and damp and asking for her mother. The world around her would have to become immeasurably kinder and gentler for her to have any chance of staying alive. Chiklin puts his coat, Zhachev's coat, and the activist's coat over Nastya to keep her warm.

The activist feels upset, lonely, and abandoned by the masses, so he snatches his coat away from Nastya.

Reading the directive from Provincial Headquarters, Zhachev suggests they get an iron bar and deal with the activist. Chiklin objects, saying he doesn't hit people with lumps of metal--that way he wouldn't get to feel justice. Instead, he wallops the activist in the chest with his sledgehammer fist. The activist crumbles to the floor.

Outside, the collective farm folk furiously sweep away all the snow as a hygienic precaution.

Doubtful elements who had been confined in storerooms and various other places, take advantage of the activist's absence and sneak out to return to their daily lives.

A whining sound is heard. It is the bear. As Voshchev explains, all the bear is fit for is work. The moment he takes a rest he starts thinking and then he gets all down in the mouth. Voshchev intends to add the bear to his scrap collection.

Voshchev examines the activist and determines that he is dead. The collective farmers aren't upset by this (after all, the activist was a reptile) but they aren't pleased either, since he was the only one who knew the law and took care of them.

Voshchev realizes that the activist had functioned in a predatory manner, monopolizing the whole of universal truth in himself. Voshchev calls the activist vermin and shouts out, "So that's why I never knew the meaning of anything! It wasn't just me you sucked dry, you arid soul, it was the whole of our class!"

Voshchev announces that from now on he will take care of the collective farmers, and they are agreeable to the idea. Voshchev orders the peasants to send the activist's body down the river with the kulaks.

Nastya, who has fallen ill, keeps asking for her mother. Chiklin says it's time to go back to the town. Prushevsky wants to stay, however, because he hasn't finished teaching the village youth.

In order to make the best possible time, Chiklin carries Zhachev and Yelisey carries Nastya.

They arrive in town. The foundation pit is fully covered with snow, and the barracks is dark and empty. Chiklin tries to make a fire to keep Nastya warm. Nastya keeps saying, "Bring me my mommy's bones." She also asks why she always feels her mind. Chiklin suggests that it is because she's never seen anything good.

Suddenly, Nastya kisses Chiklin, just as her mother had done so many years ago. The girl then falls asleep.

The next morning, it is freezing cold. Nastya is dead. Chiklin is overcome with an urge to dig. He goes to the foundation pit and digs feverishly in the ground, which is frozen solid. He digs and digs because he wants to forget his mind and to forget the fact that Nastya is dead.

Voshchev unexpectedly shows up with the whole collective farm, including the collectivized horses. Voshchev has come to give Nastya a sack of his collected scrap, each item an eternal reminder of someone who was now forgotten. When he sees that Nastya is dead, he is bewildered. He doesn't understand how Communism could ever come to exist if it didn't appear first of all in a child's feelings and conviction.

Zhachev wants to know why Voshchev brought along the whole collective farm. Voshchev says the peasants want to enroll as proletariat. Chiklin agrees to the idea. Now, he says, they will have to dig the foundation pit wider and deeper because they'll have to build a house big enough for anyone who comes along, workers or peasants. Chiklin resumes digging in the foundation pit, and the peasants all join in. They dig with a furious zeal for life, as though they were seeking eternal salvation in the abyss of the foundation pit. Even the horses joined in.

The only one who doesn't join in the work is Zhachev. "I don't believe in anything any more," he explains. "I'm a freak of Imperialism....But Communism's something for the kids. That's why I loved Nastya."

As his final act, Zhachev plans to go off and kill comrade Pashkin.

Chiklin spends 15 hours digging a grave deep enough for Nastya so that neither worms nor roots nor the noise of life from earth's surface would ever disturb her. It is night as he lays her in her grave. Everyone is asleep except for the bear. Chiklin allows the bear to touch Nastya for one last time.