Ari Belinkiy
Men Who Laughed, p.2

The Man with the Mustache apologized with a short note (later, after Bald Man’s third stroke, he would coerce Naden’ka to give it back - it was stupid to leave a bargaining chip in the hands of his future enemies.) His apology was well accepted by his Party comrades (he cared about the health of his teacher and about normal relations inside the Party) as they had accepted his former explosion (he cared about the health of his teacher as well as the Party’s discipline). His southern temper conveniently explained his former rudeness and his unwillingness to apologize immediately. He won. To strengthen his victory he visited the Bald Man a few times to give him an opportunity of speaking about theoretical problems and to take an occasional picture for the Party archive. The Bald Man died within a year and a half. Before his death he listened greedily to a story about the man, half-frozen, without food, who crawled to the ship in Alaska snows. The story was written by that old fighter Jack London, and he listened to it many times. When it was over (that man reached the ship!) his eyes beamed and Naden’ka obediently started reading again from the beginning.

The Man with the Mustache knew that the Bald Man had not forgiven him although he did not know exactly what had given him that impression -- it might be the spittle in the corner of the mouth, the tears of feebleness, that letter (“you offended”) with unclear handwriting. He was right: secretly the Bald Man dictated another letter to the Party, insisting on replacing the Man with the Mustache in the key position which enabled him to hold a grip on the rest of the Party. Nor did he forget the rest of them, those whom after his fall people called “leaders,” he had to tell the bitter truth; in fact, he always told the truth, even the bitter truth. He wrote that Grisha and Leva were not real leaders: that they could betray at the last minute, as they did once in 1917, on the eve of his triumph. He warned that the Man with the Pince-nez, the man who won the Civil War sleeping two years in military trains, was dangerous to the Party. He suggested that they enlarge the group of people responsible for decisions to preserve the Unity of the Party. He spoke about a young generation of Party leaders - his disciples who would develop and adjust his doctrine in the time to come...

The Man with the Mustache nodded, remembering. Rumors about this letter circulated, poisoning some of his happiest moments: the first public defeat of the Man with the Pince-nez, the first mistakes of Grisha and Leva. Yes, that letter smeared all of them but demanded a specific action only against him personally. The letter became known, Naden’ka brought it before the Party Congress, the first Congress after the death of the Bald Man. He waited: the will of the deceased was sacred, his chances were small, he waited for a miracle. The question had to be decided on the last day of the Congress. These were nights without the moon, in vain he stared into the gloomy Moscow night sky looking for her smile; only with the last dawn he caught her slight glimpse. And the miracle happened -- Grisha and Leva saved him from being ousted; they needed him: the Man with the Pince-nez was still strong. Thou has not given me over into the hands of enemies. He still remembered how they celebrated their victory in the Kremlin and the smart blond girl who served him there and later in Crimea, where he went to cure his unsettled nerves. He passed the girl later to the local Secret Police department as a possible agent of imperialist intelligence, asking that the investigation be finished as quickly as possible… He came to the window and slightly pushed a curtain aside. The moon once more helped him to distinguish a tall stout shadowless figure near the fence. This time the moon was closer and brighter -- the same moon which accompanied him all his life, a reliable witness of his success, ready to testify about his success before the court of History. He still remembered the night before the final vote, when he caught a subtle yellow glimpse of the new moon.

Later the Man with the Mustache used this letter on many occasions, of course omitting some unnecessary words about his own person: a revolutionary should be a modest man. Eventually he was grateful to the Bald Man: he was his teacher even in this episode. And in return he was the only real disciple of the Bald Man. He proved it later; he sharpened arguments the latter used in theoretical debates with opponents and copied his behavior in critical situations. They shared something essential which overcame differences in opinions... He, and only he, could implement the last will of his teacher. And the latter knew it. Their misunderstanding was merely an accident of circumstance...

The Bald Man died just in time. The Man with the Pince-nez was somewhere on the south curing the painful bites from the last Politburo meeting. It was up to the Man with the Mustache together with the other Bald Man’s disciples to carry the heavy coffin on the snowy Moscow street. Grisha and Leva cried but he did not: even in disaster one should not cry, should not lose confidence. A man should bear his grief silently. (And people saw it. The right people who also did not cry, at least publicly.) His grief was expressed in words, not in tears: our Teacher, we swear by your name that we will carry your banner further...We will preserve the Unity of the Party by all means..

The Bald Man was canonized and the theoretical discussions were over: the problem was to interpret his words. In the manner of interpretation confidence was more important than eloquence, hard daily work was more appealing than brilliant theoretical arguments. Eventually discussions were harmful: they destroyed the most precious thing in the world -- Unity. Unity of thought. The last idea did not come to his party at once because of the Bald Man’s harmful heritage, his burning desire to argue and convince. Yes, he had to wait six long years until his party was tired of discussions. But they were not lost years - he managed to bring his own people into the key positions in the party apparatus, people who did not need many opinions - his opinion was enough for them. He exiled the Man with the Pince-nez and saw Grisha and Leva crying for forgiveness, crawling at his feet...All these shtetl Jews: they believed that “revolutionary genealogy” (the time they spent abroad, side-by-side with the Bald Man in London or in Switzerland) would be a crucial factor in their fight. They did not understand that a simple democratic procedure, voting, would decide the matter. The problem was only to arrange it properly, not leaving anything to chance...

Now recalling that story, his nightmares, he laughed in his mustache: he did not yet know well the Laws of History discovered by that German Jew by whose name he called all wine and candy factories. From the historical perspective nothing could go differently. Behind his victory was a cogent theory, yes, a cruel theory, but a powerful and thus true theory which consistently explained (and thus justified) the intellectual and emotional convulsions of mankind and provided reliable recipes to cure this sickness: surgery should be performed at exactly the chosen time and be backed by a strong will. (He smiled: the strongest will, his will.) And to close the circle: his victory confirmed his right to be here today, in the heart of the huge empire. He would never concede that his rivals could repeat the same arguments should they take over from him: they could not because they had failed. His arguments had been won, as proved by their implementation. His appointment was justified by History, the mother of Truth.

He liked History, he liked to peruse history books and then quote them in his writings. Recently, to explain the shameful retreat of 1941, he recalled a story about the Roman general Crassus, lured by Parthians deep into Asia Minor to be exhausted in a partisan war and methodically destroyed. Crassus was one of a few distinguished men (he knew all the names by heart) who sacked the Jewish Temple. Of course he did not mention the Temple in his writing - let those scribbling Jews like Feuchtwanger snivel about it. Though - who knows - he might need the Temple later, either the building or its ghost… The Second Temple, one of the seven wonders of the world, built out of yellow and blue marble. Yes, it was said that one who did not see Herod’s Temple did not see a real building in his life. It was whom? Memory betrayed him, he frowned and touched the bell.

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January 2005

Let them Eat Myth
Douglas Rushkoff

Hipster Antisemitism
Jennifer Blowdryer and Alvin Orloff

To Ohio and Back
Avi Steinberg

The Knowing
Jay Michaelson

Abba Kovner: The Warrior in Old Age
James Russell

Men who Laughed
Ari Belenkiy

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From previous issues:

Josh Plays the Sitar
Josh Ring

Carrying Light into Dark Times
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Run Like the Wind
Jay Michaelson and Dan Friedman