And now, as an initiated member of the Comintern, he stood on the special platform that had been erected beside the Lenin Mausoleum on Red Square for the anniversary of the revolution, within earshot of the Leader himself, the Sun King, the Pharaoh, the Emperor. And I, his comrade, beside him, a 26-year-old kid with a book in the making. What was I? What was I doing there? I was writing The Lights of Peace. And I was acquainting myself with the onward-marching success of communism. It was a big parade. We stood there for three hours, while the Soviet republics marched past one by one, my God there were a lot of them. Whole factories strode past, army divisions, coalmines, collective farms, schools, athletes, children and women. A hundred thousand copies of the super-worker Stakhanov, smiling triumphantly in the face of socialism, the tanned and pockmarked face of socialism, the one with the big moustache that overshadowed all our lives. And everyone was ordered to keep their arms folded on their chest so that no one would go and shoot the fellow. The danger of this might possibly have disturbed the Leader’s concentration as he peered at this endless procession and selected the face of the next person to shoot.
From an ash-grey sky finely-wrought snowflakes descended, fluttering angularly in the calm air like the scraps of paper that Americans pour over their heroes – God was blessing the Revolution – and fighter planes flew overhead in formation, while others flew low over the highest towers of Russian history. All of it a magnificent spectacle, but painfully long-drawn-out. However, we put up with it and stood there for three hours in 5 degrees of frost. People did not walk out of shows that Stalin directed.
‘What must take place is the plain and simple overthrow of the social structure. We must dissolve it in order to be able to attain the dictatorship of the proletariat. Anything else is just rightocracy. The rightocrats are the road-layers of fascism.’
‘But what about democracy? Hasn’t it a…’
‘According to Lenin, in capitalist states the so-called democracy is an empty illusion, a means of oppression. The true democratic republic is the power of the people, the proletariat, a republic is a res publica, and it must be organized by good people. People like Comrade Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, Beria…’
We sat on hard bast chairs in the café of Hotel Metropol, trying to slurp away the chill after the march-athon on Red Square. He was teaching me. I drank in every word. We spoke Icelandic even though Kristján’s fiancée, the Swedish Lena, had now joined us. She was pretty but far too guillemot-like for my taste, with a long neck and a beak nose, as thin as a rake. To tell the truth, I could never get rid of the notion that Lena Billén’s body was just too bourgeois. She didn’t even know how to dress in a proletarian manner, with a far-too Parisian hat on her boyish head and long pearl necklaces at her throat, which I knew got on Stjáni’s nerves. One of these days those necklaces would probably strangle her. From time to time I smiled at the Swedish guillemot and looked at the two-year-old girl she held in her arms. A dark-haired moppet, powerfully built. Her name was Nína, and I sometimes suspected that Kristján was her father, but we never discussed it. Another more important matter preoccupied our minds. At the tables around us sat stately party men – with such strangely iron expressions in these imperial surroundings – and silent women who like Lena looked out of the windows, out at the November-grey Pushkin Square, which the first snow of the winter was quickly turning white. Kristján looked quickly around him after he spoke these last words. ‘Stalin, Molotov, Beria.’ Yes, he had spoken them in a positive way, without any mockery. This was his third time in Moscow, and he had now been here for ten months, well-schooled in circumspection. One thoughtless word could wipe out twenty years’ work. I was still trying to get used to this.
‘Kristján, have you any plans for this evening?’ said Lena, in Swedish.
‘Yes, Einar is going to have dinner with us. In our room.’
(to be continued)
translated from Icelandic by David McDuff
The Author of Iceland - 1