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THE LIFE OF GRIGORY ISAYEV The Party of Proletarian Dictatorship. The Strike Commitee of Samara Stachkom


A Word from Translator
Below is my translation of the 1996 interview with Grigory Isayev by a journalist from a Samara newspaper. Isayev is the leader of the Party of Proletarian Dictatorship based in the city of Samara (former Kuibyshev). Last spring, as the Chairman of the City Stachkom (Strike Committee), he led the two-month long strike which
paralized the center of the city and included the lockout of the plant administration. This interview is interesting in a number of ways. PPD is the only known grass-roots party of the Soviet proletariat.
Its ideology was formed in undeground, in complete isolation from the Marxist thought outside the country and in the opposition to the official Marxism of Brezhnev's era. I've read by now most of Razlatsky's writings and have my doubts about some of his ideas, but his clear understanding of the coming catastrophe was indeed unique at that time.
He was not only the last revolutionary thinker of the late Soviet period, but the last revolutionary intellectual who indeed went over to the side of the proletariat once and for all. The workers of Samara paid him back with their love and continue to revere his memory. His followers were not many, but he succeeded in bringing up a vanguard for the future. Now it begins to bear fruit.
Isayev's own story is still in the making. He and his friends are presently in Moscow talking to the miners who have been picketing the government offices since June. In his last letter to me he promised to organize the All-Russian Strike Committee. They sleep on the ground, together with the miners. You can recognize the men from Samara by two banners: "All Power to Strike Committees" and "Down With All Bosses!"
This is an abridged translation. I left out the details of Isayev's arrest, his life in the camp, and smaller things that would be difficult to understand for foreign audience. I welcome any editorial suggestions since I plan to publish this piece in a number of sites.
Vladimir Bilenkin Interview with Grigory Isayev I was 10 when Stalin died. Back then we lived in barracks. There was a "plate" hanging in the corridor--a radio speaker. One morning I ran out of our room, rushing to the communal bathroom, and at once noticed that something was wrong. There was an unusual silence. There were people sitting silently in the kitchen. Some one was crying in the neighbor's room. "What's the matter?"-I asked. Nobody responded to a mere kid. Only later I heard: Stalin. I remember that my soul, the soul of
a boy, felt empty at these words.
In this prison camp I asked inmates--among them were Vlasov's men, [General Vlasov was a Ukrainian(?) officer whose army fought with the Nazis against the Motherland during WWII] nationalists and pure
dissidents--whether they went to battle during the war in the name of Motherland or Stalin. They would answer:
"Rather for Stalin than for Motherland."
No, it's not that simple with [the question of] Stalin. Nowadays they often say: "The country lived in fear under him." This is not true.
The war became a test of this. People, who lived in fear of the monster, would not have died with his name on their lips. Nor would they have won the war.
Our losses aand sacrifices--this is a different question. But what is history about if not for us to learn from it?
A common man, i.e., a Philistine, believes everything but does not reflect on anything. We believed that Stalin was much more than simply a leader. Years had passed before we began to reflect on this and, naturally, our attitude to Stalin changed. But anyway one cannot indiscriminately blame everything on him. Now we prefer white over red, now red over white, but life consists of more than two colors.
-Did you realize this under Khrushchev?
-I realized this as I was growing older. We Russians believed in God, in Tsar, in Generalissimos and, under Khrushchev especially, in his lofty slogan: "We shall build our new world." Back then, in the early sixties, I served in the Soviet Army Group in Germany, Western Saxony, 15 kilometers from the border. In case of emergency, we would clash head to head with the US Seventh Army within twenty minutes.
The Berlin Wall was just built. Our men sat in their tanks for three days, with engines running and shells loaded. Like during the war. We served faithfully.
-By the way, in my three years in the army, I got a good sense of the German character since we had to interact with the local population.
The main things for Germans are order and discipline. For Russians-- selflessness and slothfulness. Yes, this is so. We ought not flatter ourselves.
-I've seen a few things in life. In the late sixties, when I studied in the Politech school, I worked for three years as a commander of the regional construction brigade. It was called "Commune," by the way. We laid the foundation for the Volga Auto Works and the city of Togliatti in the bare steppe. After that I came to work in the ZiM (the Plant named after Maslennikov was the site of the strike led by Isayev last spring--V.B.) as a foreman in the foundry shop. Then I switched to becom a metal craftsman. Why? Because of the (system's) cretinism: engineers were paid little and I had a family to feed. My wife, Galina, was about to have our second son, Vanya. Just think, how little education was valued back then!
What a stupid system!
-And so I built, toiled, supported with my back the feudal state and saw stupid bungling and waste everywhere. There were mountains of clothes in stores but nothing worth buying--all of it junk. Or take our foundry shop. We had state of the art equipment there. Once we received a rush order. It required extreme precision from us. So we did the job well.
The details were crafted so nicely--you would want to put them on your Christmas tree. Our morale was high: we roved ourselves! And then suddenly we saw our details, already painted, thrown back into the melt box for the crucible.
-Can you imagine the feelings of a worker! It turned out that some draftsman made a mistake in the size parameters. And this was not an isolated case but a norm. Mountains of invaluable labor were wasted.
Or take the BAM (the Baikal-Amur Railroad--V.B.). No, I thought, something was going wrong.
-Did you think so alone?
-Every one saw this. The press wrote about this too. But all the blame was always put on the lower level bureaucracy. As for the people, let them not worry: they have sausage, vodka on every corner, so--
"we are moving in the right direction, comrades." However, as our saying goes: what the pastor is, so is his parish, and this raised the questions:
What about the Council of Ministers, the Supreme Soviet, and what about the Central Committee?
-And then I met with Alexei Borisovich Razlatsky. It happened by accident, on one family occasion.
- He was the head of a scientific group at the research institute Giprovostokneft' (the State Research Institute of Eastern Oil--V.B.).
But he was not a member of the CPSU. Strange, isn't it? He should've been because of his position. Yet, think what you like, he did not join the Party. He was much valued for his powerful intellect. He would, jokingly, suggest to the higher-ups ideas for their doctoral dissertations (Doctor of Sciences was the next scholarly rank after Ph.D.--V.B.). Many owed him a lot in this respect. By the way, the Rector of the Moscow State University was not a Communist either. But the feudal system intuitively clung to people like them.
-People were drawn to Razlatsky as to a magnet. I also began to frequent his place. I noticed at once that empty people did (? - did not?) stay for long there. We played a bit of chess, but mostly it was conversation. Whatever subjects were discussed one could feel how much above the rest of us Razlatsky was in his understanding of the world. The kind of conversations we had before him were the usual ones: our women, dachas, our cars. With Razlatsky, our mundane chat turned into a conversation "about life." And every timeit ended with the question: "Why?"
-He had a sharp analytical mind, I would say, a dialectical mind. He created us. His grandeur, I am not afraid to apply this word to him, was felt by everybody, though, unfortunately, only few were able to understand him completely. Especially so, when the recurring question, "Who's guilty?", made him get involved with Marxism seriously.
-By the way, Grigory, why did not you become a party member?
-When I became a worker, they begged me to. I refused. What for ? To pay more dues? 1% to the union, 2% --to them? I was up to my head in this life, in the foundry shop, in the very midst of the working class.
I played the role of a catalyst in our group. Razlatsky generated ideas.
-In the mid seventies, Razlatsky began writing his works for us and for himself. I read them right away, with ink still wet: "Who Is to Answer?", "The Second Communist Manifesto," "What Our Intelligentsia Does Not Want to Know" and others. We distributed these works among workers with great caution. Instead of printing them,
we asked readers to rewrite what they read. Later on, the chekists (KGB operatives--V.B.) confirmed that it was a good security practice. Indeed, who would pay attention to some secondary-school notebooks with clumsy handwriting and ink blots all over them, eh?
- In our foundry shop we tested our strike methods. Reasons for strikes were simple: the administration did not give us special work clothes, like boots. So we stopped working for 2-3 hours. Two days was our record.
And we taught the administration a good lesson! The whole plant would come to the shop to drink milk and soda. And this was in the 1970s.
-We held on in the underground for five years, thanks to Razlatsky.
-Did you know what you were facing if they caught you?
-We did. We fought against the State, after all.
-So what did you count on?
-It may sound strange, but we hoped THEY would understand us.
Those were utopian hopes. We would say: "They put a red cloth on the eyes of society." This notwithstanding, we held it to be a great banner! Weren't we too fighting under it? Didn't we share the same goal: to build a classless society? One had only to throw away the wrong methods.
-But no! We did not fall in love with each other. They banged our heads against the pavement. "Only the ruling party can be right!"
-When did you become aware that they were following you?
- They spied on us from 1979 to 1981. A friend of mine was arrested.
His neighbor informed on him and they got him under the pretext that he was drunk. They frisked him and found one of those secondary-school notebooks. Somehow he was able to get himself out, but they put him
undersurveillance. That was it.
Soon after I noticed that I was followed.
-So your arrest did not come unexpected for you?
-We had set up several secret caches beforehand and hid our literature there.
-As to my arrest, it looked very routine. On 13 December 1981 Jaruzelsky introduced martial law in Poland. It "rang the bell" across the entire Socialist camp. Arrests took place everywhere.
Razlatsky and myself were arrested on December 15
-The investigation took a year and a half. During that period I had to spend some time in the Serbsky Institute (the central psychiatric facility, involved in the repression of political dissidence in the SU--V.B.) where they placed us. I was there for 35 days, Razlatsky--for seventy. But unlike the others, they didn't "treat" us.
Why not? They made idiots only of isolated individuals, but we were agroup. Our case was special. Too many people knew that we were sane.
Nobody would have believed that idiots could organize as we did.
- Shortly after Brezhnev's death, Razlatsky and I were sentenced under Article 70 and sent to the camps. Razlatsky got 7 years of camps and 5 of exile. He served his sentence in Mordovia. I was sent to the Perm
camp, with 5 and 5 (5 years of camps and 5 of exile-V.B.).
-And what exactly was the difference between regular and political camps?
-It matters little in which camp one is deprived from one's freedom. Of course, Andropov's times did not stand a comparison with those of Imperial Russia. We had no privileges, like those enjoyed by Katya Maslova (a character from Leo Tolstoy's novel--V.B.). Still, they addressed us by using the polite form of "you." We could write two letters a month and have our relatives visit us.
-As in a regular camp, we had informers among us, about 10% of prisoners. You could get their number quickly because of the kind of questions they asked, the way they listened. In a way, we even "made friends" with them. You would say something to him, he would inform on you, the administration would reward him with a pack of cut tea, and we would drink it together afterwards.
-What were political prisoners guilty of?
-60-70% of us "sat" under the same Article as myself. The rest sat mainly under Article 94--"high treason." Those were the "runners" who tried to escape from the country by highjacking the means of transportation. But the majority sat for "ideas," they were intellectuals.
-They were sentenced under the same article, but their motives were different. There were many nationalists, Bandera's people, Vlasov's followers, the "forest brothers" (i.e., the anti-communist partisans
from the Baltic--V.B.).
-Each of them fought for the freedom of his Motherland. Every one was against the system, against this kind of life. I also went against the new feudalism created by the CPSU. But only a few supported the slogan:
"Glory to October of 1917! Long Live the New October!" So be it.
-Was it Gorbachev who set you and Razlatsky free?
-Yeah, and thanks to him for this, of course. However, I came back to the kind of life of which Razlatsky warned us as early as in the 1970s. I foresaw and was prepared for it.
-It was clear to us all along that the feudal-serf order was coming to an end. This was something we already new from history. Who was Gorbachev? A liberal bourgeois, a Kerensky. Who was Yeltsin? A radical bourgeois. In short, they were bourgeois by their nature and fought between themselves just because both were larger than life.
Ligachev? these types never learn anything.
-The redistribution of property is going on. But in whose interest?
-Grigory, whom did you "root" for when they were bombing the White House (the Supreme Soviet in 1993--V.B.)?
-For no one. It was a fight between masters, they were at each other's throats: the nascent bourgeoisie and the old feudalism. On the radio, they were screaming: "The fate of Russia is at stake! Come here and help!"
Yet, babushkas kept walking their grandchildren in courtyards and lovers kept kissing. The people did not care. Because on both sides, right and left, the working class saw its exploiters.
-All this mess will go on until the new proletarian revolution. It is inevitable. Razlatsky died, we march on.
* * *
The journalist continues.
Isayev was recently invited to read lectures on philosophy at one college. The students listened to him attentively, did not rush out of the class at sound of the the bell.
When he is free from lectures, meetings and family affairs, Isayev works as a yard-keeper or stays in his "bunker"--the former bomb shelter in the vicinity of the Ravine of Underground Revolutionaries. There, on the door of a residential building, you will see the sign "Stachkom" (strike committee). Downstairs, ten steps below, you willfind a spacious room without windows. A table, chairs, hot tea.
On the walls there hang Vysotsky's portrait, pictures of workers' demonstrations and--slogans: "One must be hungry himself in order to lead the hungry!", "Without the intelligentsia, the working class is like a blind man without a guide," "The party of the proletariat should not be the ruling party!"
People flow to this bunker uninterruptedly. They are different, mostly workers. They come to talk. The other day came the first secretary of the VKPB of Mordovia (the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks led by
Nina Andreyeva--V.B.). He hotly debated with Grigory for two days.
By the end of the second day Isayev branded him: "A counter-revolutionary!"
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