Platonov, The Foundation Pit (1927-32)

 

Outline:

 

1.      (1-3) Voshchev loses his job due to "thoughtfulness amid the general tempo of labor" (1). He goes to the beer room and stares out a window at a tree growing on a clay mound, "swaying from adversity .. its leaves curling up with secret shame." (2) He is like a dog: "living only thanks to its birth".

2.      (3-8) Voshchev tells the bartender that he was fired because he was thinking about "a plan of life, a plan of shared general life." (3) The Bartender's Advice: "Happiness will originate from materialism, Comrade Voshchev, not from meaning." (4) Voshchev responds: "Without thought, people act senselessly."  Walking away, Voshchev contemplates a dead leaf: "Everything had abandoned itself to meek existence, only Voshchev had made himself separate and silent." He picks up the The Dead Leaf, promising it that he will find out what it lived and perished for, and he puts it in his little bag. (4-5) He walks to a New Town where he finds a corpulent cripple, a veteran, extorting tobacco from a blacksmith. The Pioneer Orchestra marches past, and Voshchev wonders about how they survived in their mothers' bellies during the Civil War. He envies their bodies which knew more than he does: "children are time coming to maturity in a fresh body." The crippled veteran watches the children, his hand  moving "deep in his pocket." (7)

3.      (8-10) Voshchev watches workers constructing a tower and wonders, "Man puts up a building- and falls apart himeslf . Who'll be left to live then?" (9) He falls asleep in a gully, his head resting on his little bag "where he collected every kind of obscurity for memory and vengeance" A mower awakens him and tells him to go sleep in the barracks because he is in the middle of a construction site. In the barracks, Voshchev looks at the sleepers: "Each was existing without the least surplus of life, and during sleep only the heart remained alive to take care of the man." (10)

4.      (10-18) Voshchev awakens to see the whole work crew staring at him wondering at his weakness and lack of political consciousness. He asks, "You, probably, know everything, do you?" and Safronov the ideological font of the proletariat, exclaims "It's us that give existence to every organization." (11) Voshchev is doubtful, but he is accepted into the work crew. He hopes that even if he does not grasp the meaning of his existence, then maybe he can observe it in "the substance of the body of another." Prushevsky the engineer overlooks the site: "He pictured the whole world as a dead body, judging it by those parts of it that he had already converted into structures." (12)  Chiklin the indefatigable worker, asks the engineer for more workers: "This job is a killer," and then he plunges into digging: "The earth needs the touch of iron or it lies there like some fool of a woman. It's sad!" (13). Chiklin senses what is around him without "calculation or consciousness but with precision." (13)  and Kozlov the Weak (later, the Informant) is tiring. Safronov admonishes him for relishing 'conflict'. Chiklin says, "He coughs, he sighs, he grieves, he goes silent- that's the way graves are dug, not buildings." (14)  Even so, Kozlov still believes in "the life to come after the construction of the big building." (15) The engineer comes by and tells the workers to knock off, but Chiklin strives on, claiming, "We can live for the sake of enthusiasm." (16)  After eating, Kozlov exclaims with joy, "A real lord and master would build himself a building in no time, but you lot will snuff it on empty earth." (16)  He cries, "Happiness is a bourgeois business. Happiness only leads to shame." (17) Voshchev watches a bird drop dead out of  the sky, picks it up and plucks it: "a scant, sad creature that had perished from the exhaustion of its own labor." (17)

5.      (18-21) Prushevsky the Engineer's Crisis: He is building "a single all-proletarian home in place of the old town where to this day people lived by fencing themselves off into households." (19) He dreams of a future tower in the middle of the world where all the world's workers will settle for happy eternity. He wonders at the psychic structure of the people who live there, their bodies, the agitating force of their hearts.He wonders if his plans have taken into account "that surplus warmth of life that had been termed a soul." He wonders if a "superstructure can develop from any base?" "Was soul within man an inevitable by-product of the manufacture of vital material" (19-20) He wanders out into the night and staring at an unclear star wonders, "Or should I perish?" (21) He says, "I'd better die. People make use of me, but no one is glad of me." (21)

6.      (21-28) Pashkin the Union Chairman admonishes the crew to get on with the digging. He reminds them that "happiness will set in historically all the same." He says, "Socialism will get along fine without you, but withourt socialism you'll all live life in vain and snuff it." Their lives might be "ebbing away now like a flow of breath, but it could still be organized to future use through the structure of the building." (22) He promises benefits, but Safronov reminds him,  "We're the ones around here who make the benefits." Voshchev's dislodges a pebble as he digs and wonders "at the pebble's almost eternal sojourn in the midst of clay; if it was to the pebble's advantage to find itself there, then it followed all the more that a man should live." (23) Chiklin incorporates the gully into the design of the foundation pit to halve the amount of work necessary. Prushevsky comes by (after mailing his suicide note to his sister) and brings more workers, but they are not trained: desk workers, steppe recluses, men used to walking behind a horse.  Prushevsky orders a core sample taken from the earth in the gully and contemplates it:  "Eternal matter, needing neither movement nor life nor extinction had come to take the place for Prushevsky of something forgotten and necessary, like the beating of a lost sweetheart." He wonders if he had ever met a girl who could have been his sweetheart, but he cannot remember any face.

7.      (28-37) Zhachev the crippled vet extorts cream from Pashkin the Union Chief and his wife. They all fear his denuncuation. "You bourgeois! You class superfluity!"  The cripple decides to go visit the work team and Chiklin. He eats their communal porridge. Safronov the ideologue expresses his doubts: "there was no hope in life if it were only inert matter" Chiklin does not think of such matters. Voshchev the truth seeker criticizes him: "All you ever do is work and sleep... Without truth I feel ashamed to be alive," and Safronov responds by offering to present him with "a liquid or round product". "Wasn't truth merely a class enemy?" All Chiklin can do is "feel and be speechlessly agitated." He remembers a time when he had worked in the Dutch tile factory and once been kisssed by the boss' daughter. Prushevsky comes by the barracks in despair, and Chiklin tells him to stay there with them. They'll protect him.

8.      (38-43) Kozlov the Informant is disgusted by Prushevsky's behavior and feels an ardent social joy at the prospect of turning him in! Prushevsky tells Chiklin of his memories of a woman, and Chiklin is thrilled. He must mean the woman who once kissed him! He promises to take him to meet her.  Kozlov has decided he cannot work any longer. He must move over to a disability pension and thereby "abandon himself to the very greatest social benefit." (41) Safronov scoffs and Kozlov threatens to denounce him. "Remember the collectivization drive when you incited a certain poor peasant to slaughter a cock and eat it?"; then  Zhachev the cripple smashes his head into Kozlov's body, and Chiklin tosses Zhachev. In the air Zhachev exclaims, "Why, Nikita? I wanted him to receive a grade one pension!"  A yellow eyed peasant comes running on to the work site, a runaway from, we will learn, the collective farm.

9.      (43-46)  Safronov asks them whether they should install a radio so that they can listen to achivements and directives. Zhachev suggests that they bring a little orphan girl there instead.Voshchev yearns for a future when there will be meaning."It's for the productivity of labor that I want truth." Safronov reminds him that the proleterait lives for enthusiasm, not truth.  

10.  (46-50) Chiklin walks to the old tile making plant and relives the moment when the woman kissed him by the stairs. He finds the Tile-Maker's Daughter on the brink of death from starvation. A little girl cannot understand why her mother is dying. "Is it because you are bourgeois?" Her mother explains that it is just because she is worn out. Chiklin kisses the woman on the lips, and she says "Why do I need that?" then rolls over and dies. Chiklin takes the little girl with him back to the barracks.

11.  (50-59) In the barracks the workers are listening to the radio glumly. Safronov challenges them all, even Voshchev, to "a socialist competition for the highest happiness of mood." Everyone instead falls asleep, and Safronov rues the fact that the masses have worn out the entire proletariat vanguard! The Little Girl (Nastya) in the Barracks: the socialist future. She starts giving commands "Give me some food! Hey Julia-- or I'll do you in!" just like she learned from her father. Chiklin takes Prushevsky back to the tile factory to show him the dead body of the woman they both loved.Chiklin kisses her dead face again and then closes up the entry way with rubble.  They return to the foundation pit. Zhachev has made a vow. When this little girl grows up, he'll put an end to all the adults in his locality, all those egoists and bloodsuckers, leaving only proletarian infancy and pure orphan hood. The little girl tells everyone that she knows who is most important of all: Stalin, then Budyonny (a buffoon in Stalin's inner circle). She goes to sleep on Chiklin's tummy, and all the workers watch her sleep. Safronov declares, "Comrades! Before us without consciousness lies the fact of socialism!" (59)  She is "the substance of creation and the aim and goal of every directive." Voshchev holds her hand and has hope: "This weak body would one day feel the warming current of the emanating of life..." (59)

12.  (59-66) Prushevsky's dreams of the tower of the future: "peaceful white buildings that shone with more light than there was in the air around them.... They possessed blue, yellow, and green colors which lent them the deliberate beauty of a child's drawing." (60);  Yelisey's Coffins: A half naked man whose back is covered with 'night earth' bursts into Prushevsky's office to complain. He is demanding that the coffins unearthed in the gulley be returned to his collective farm. Chiklin had given two of them to Nastya, one for her to sleep in and another for her toys. Yelisey ropes together all the coffins and hauls them out of the work site and towards the collective farm. Voshchev decides to follow the line of coffins.

13.  (66-69) Kozlov pulls up to the foundation pit in an automobile with Pashkin. He has been promoted and is proudly wearing his new uniform. To support his grade one pension, he now uses his zealous frenzy to extort money from businesses like the cooperative food store. Safronov and Kozlov are appointed by Pashkin to go to the collective farm and lead it into the future: "to hurl into the village something special from the working class in order to begin class struggle against the village stumps of capitalism."  (68)  Nastya: the future object of joy.

14.  (69-86) Life in the Collective: the chief revolutionary, The Activist, cries,  "Dig the pit deeper! Prushevsky: even deeper! News leaks from the village that Safronov and Kozlov have been murdered. The Activist: we'll get to the bottom of it! (He worries every day that a horseman from district headquarters may be coming with a new directive. He spends his days examining the calligraphy of signatures and dreaming of the day when 'the entire earthly globe descends into iron hands'. (73)) Chiklin chats with the corpses and then punches the yellow-eyed peasant after he cleans the corpses for 'living without meaning to'.  Voshchev asks the activist if truth is the due of the proletariat and he answers, "Movement is the due of the proletariat." (78) The Collective mourns the death of their cock. The Activist demands, "Who killed the cock?" Wait, an old peasant claims a new cock has been found, but it looks like it has been 'shat on by a cow'. A wrecker, who the activist claims is the murderer, has died and is lying with the other corpses. The Activist senses the mood is blea, so he orders a  'collective-farm march' for the following day through adjoining villages still clinging to private ownership. Back in the barracks, Nastya has learned how to write! Her first written note: "Liquidate the kulaks as a class."

15.   (86-95) Parade of the bare foot collective farm workers walking into rainy oblivion... The Calm Horses share their hay with the collectivized livestock (88-89)... a peasant is lying face down in his hut since his horse has been taken... another peasant is lying in a coffin trying to still his heartbeat (91)... The Activist  is teaching the alphabet in the reading hut on cultural revolution matters (92)...In the church the priest with the foxtrot hair-do informs on anyone praying and Chiklin punches him in the face, and the priest starts praying.

16.   (96-105) In the Org-yard the Collective is building a raft to transport the kulaks beyond the sea... one last night remains for grief and farewells before collectivization... Krestinin kisses his orchard trees good-bye and then pulls them out of the ground.... Peasants have been killing their un-collectivized horses... eating their livestock (102)... bidding tearful farewells to neighbors who have hated them until this moment... the bonfire.

17.   (105-115) Nastya and the amazing worker Bear help Chiklin cleanse the village of kulaks: (See Stalin, Problems of Agrarian Policy in the USSR. December 27, 1929 (On kulak liquidation)). Meat flies from the decomposing livestock hover amid the snow; in one hut, a boy is on his potty, so the Bear gives it a try; in another hut, a calm courteous peasant claims that this is all being done for the benefit of one man. The Activist describes The Bear: "Now that's what I call consciousness!"

18.   (115-128) Zhachev waves farewell to the departing raft full of kulaks: "Farewell, parasites!" (116)  The Dance over the Earth...To celebrate the de-kulakization of their collective farm, the peasants stomp dance mechanically to tunes from the wireless, and then when the wireless breaks down, they dance to the sound of the activist beat boxing. "We sense everything- only not ourselves." Yelisey collapses in exhaustion... Zhachev clutches Nastya to his belly.... The collective dances into the night until Zhachev is sent into their midst to upend them one by one.... Chiklin is pleased that only useful substance remains in the village. Meanwhile, Voshchev has filled his little bag. He goes to the activist to empty it and itemize its contents : a bast sandal, a tin ring, a trouser leg, etc.... (the material remnants of lost people without meaning (123) Chiklin tells Nastya these are her new toys.... Prushevsky has not heard from his sister. Zhachev wonders, "Will the state be able to re-animate the dead in the future?" The Activist wishes he could have packed off the whole population. He asks permission from the authorities to go even further in his cleansing of the village. The Bear hammers iron into a harrow non-stop, using up The Forge's supplies.

19.   (128-133) The Collective gathers outside the Forge as the amazing worker Bear hammers away, harder and harder... destroying the iron as he does so. Yelisey is terrified now that he owns everything. It was easier when he had nothing. A peasant wonders about meeting new responsibilities:  "It'll give us the runs". Voshchev hopes the Bear knows the reason for it all. The other peasants force their way into the Forge and take over the job: Feeling the painstaking greed of when profit is more essential than shortfall.  Prushevsky sets the date for his suicide, concluding that reason merely exists to have led him to despair, but then a young woman appears from nowhere and offers to dedicate her life to him. He wanders off with her.

20.   (133-149) Exhausted and fearful that they now will have nothing to do, having used up all the iron, the peasants leave the Forge and join the Bear which has collapsed in the snow. A Rider from Headquarters gallops up with new directives. The Activist sheds a tear when he realizes that he has been criticized for over-reaching, "Falling into the Leftist quagmire of rightist opportunism."  (see Dizzy with Success (1930) and New Conditions -- New Tasks in Economic Development (1931)) The Activist is accused of being a wrecker and saboteur of the Party. Nastya awakens burning with fever. The Activist tries to take the coat covering her so he can disguise himself, and Chiklin drops him with one punch. Nastya cries for her mother. The Bear groans. The Collective gathers in the Org-House. The peasants and Voshchev blame the Activist for sucking the meaning of their lives from them. Voshchev looks into the unfenced distance and dreams of overcoming the earths murky substance on his own. Yelisey and Chiklin set off for The Foundation Pit carrying Nastya and Zhachev. They find it filled with snow. "Bring me Mama's bones. I want them." Chiklin does so, and Zhachev cadges some pastry and cream, but Nastya dies that night. Voshchev arrives with more toys for Nastya (each an eternal memory about a forgotten human being), and when he finds her dead, he wonders what communism could be if it does not begin in a child's feeling and convinced impression. Chiklin goes off to dig in the foundation pit and the collective follows, losing itself in the abyss.  Chiklin gouges out a bed in eternal stone at the bottom of the pit to serve as Nastya's grave.