August 1914 (II)

Ok, so now I’ve finished the book. Some more quotes:

“You must realize that the grand-duke is simply waiting for the arrival of the telegram announcing the capture of Lvov. They’re all waiting for that telegram,” Svechin went on insistently, unsmilingly, with irrefutable logic, his eyes glaring ferociously as he pressed the point home. “And that telegram will simply be used to obliterate the whole Samsonov affair. They’ll set the bells ringing all over Russia to celebrate our own incompetence – because the truth is we had the Austrian army in the grip of a pincer movement and let it go, so that when we captured Lvov it was empty.” […] “Russia is doomed to be governed by fools; she knows no other way. I know what I’m talking about.”

Most of the book describes the actions of the military, however there are also parts of the book that takes place very far from the front. One of these is the following passage, which I shall quote at some length, from a dinner-conversation between a middle-aged engineer and ex-revolutionary (Obodovsky) and two young arts students (Naum, Sonya). Words in bold are words that were emphasized in the original text:

Obodovsky smiled gently. “What is an exploiter?”
Naum shrugged his shoulders. “To my mind, it’s only too obvious. You ought to be ashamed to ask a question like that.”
“No one who earns his living in industry is ashamed to ask such a question, young man. The person who sits with his arms folded and pronounces judgment from afar is the one who ought to be ashamed. Today, for instance, we were looking at a grain elevator where not long ago there was nothing but long grass growing, and then we looked at a modern mill. I can’t begin to convey to you how much intelligence, education, foresight, experience and organization have gone into that mill. Do you know what it all costs? It costs ninety percent of the future earnings! The labor of the workers who laid the bricks and hauled the machines costs ten percent – and even that could have been largely replaced by cranes. And they got their ten percent. But then along come some young men, art students … You are reading the arts, aren’t you?”
“What difference does it make? well, yes.”
“Along comes a bunch of art students and they explain to the workers that they are earning too little, and that that little engineer over there in spectacles is earning God knows how much, and that it’s sheer bribery. And these simple, uneducated people believe it and they are indignant: They can understand the value of their own work, but they’re incapable of understanding or putting a price on somebody else’s.”
“But why should Paramonov, the mill owner, make all that profit?” Sonya shouted.
“He doesn’t get it all for nothing, believe me. Remember, I said ‘organization’. He works for his share too. And if anybody does get something for doing nothing, then we must gradually see to it that that money is channeled elsewhere, by rational political measures. We mustn’t try to take it away by throwing bombs, as we did.”
He could not have expressed his backsliding and apostacy more openly. Naum gave a scornful sneer and exchanged glances with Sonya. “Does that mean you have rejected revolutionary methods forever?”


He gave his concluding reply: “I would rather put it differently. Before, I was most concerned with how to distribute everything that other people had created without my help. Now my main preoccupation is how to create. The best brains and hands in the country should concentrate on doing that; we can safely leave distribution to the second-raters.”


“How impatient you are for this revolution! Of course it’s easier to shout and it’s more fun to make a revolution than to build Russia up. That’s too much like hard work. If you were older and could remember 1905 and how it all looked at the time…” […] A reasonable man cannot be in favour of revolution, because revolution is a long and insane process of destruction. Above all, no revolution ever strengthens a country: It tears it apart, and for a long, long time. What’s more, the bloodier and more long-drawn-out it is and the dearer the country pays for it – the more likely the revolution is to be dubbed ‘great'”.


September 23, 2008 - Posted by | Books, Russia

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