A Capably Written Little Book
|Written||22 November 1921|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, 2nd English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 33, pages 125-126
A Dozen Knives in the Back of the Revolution, Paris, 1921. This small volume of stories was written by the whiteguard Arkady Averchenko, whose rage rises to the pitch of frenzy. It is interesting to note how his burning hatred brings out the remarkably strong and also the remarkably weak points of this extremely capably written book. When the author takes for his stories subjects he is unfamiliar with, they are inartistic. An example is the story showing the home life of Lenin and Trotsky. There is much malice, but little truth in it, my dear Citizen Averchenko! I assure you that Lenin and Trotsky have many faults in all respects, including their home life. But to describe them skilfully one must know what they are. This you do not know.
But most of the stories in the book deal with subjects Arkady Averchenko is very familiar with, has experienced, given thought to and felt. He depicts with amazing skill the impressions and moods of the representative of the old, rich, gorging and guzzling Russia of the landowners and capitalists. That is exactly what the revolution must look like to the representatives of the ruling classes. Averchenko’s burning hatred makes some—in fact most—of his stories amazingly vivid. There are some really magnificent stories, as, for example, ’Grass Trampled by Jackboots”, which deals with the psychology of children who have lived and are living through the Civil War.
But the author shows real depth of feeling only when he talks about food; when he relates how the rich people fed in old Russia, how they had snacks in Petrograd—no, not in Petrograd, in St. Petersburg—costing fourteen and a half rubles, fifty rubles, etc. He describes all this in really voluptuous terms. These things he knows well; these things he has experienced; here he makes no mistakes. His knowledge of the subject and his sincerity are most extraordinary.
In his last story, “Fragments of the Shattered”, he describes an ex-Senator in the Crimea, in Sevastopol, who was rich, generous and well-connected”, but who is “now a day labourer at the artillery dumps, unloading and sorting shells and an ex-director of a vast steel plant which was considered to be the largest works in Vyberg District. Now he is a salesman at a shop which sells second-hand goods on commission, and has lately even acquired a certain amount of experience in fixing the price of ladies’ second-hand robes and plush teddy-bears that people bring to be sold on commission.”
The two old fogies recall the old days, the St. Petersburg sunsets, the streets, the theatres and, of course, the meals at the “Medved “, “Vienna”, “Maly Yaroslavets”, and similar restaurants. And they interrupt their reminiscences to exclaim: “What have we done to deserve this? How did we get in anyone’s way? Who did we interfere with’ Why did they treat Russia so?”…
Arkady Averchenko is not the one to understand why. The workers and peasants, however, seem to understand quite easily and need no explanations.
In my opinion some of these stories are worth reprinting. Talent should be encouraged.