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Andrei Platonov. Inhabitant of the State
Andrei Platonov (1899-1951). Inhabitant of the State
Translation (c) 1997 by Serge Winitzki
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An aged man liked transportation to the same extent as co-operative
enterprises and the perspectives of future construction. In the morning he
would take a bite at yesterday's tidbits and would go out to observe and to
enjoy. At first he would visit the railway station, mostly platforms for
storage of incoming freights, and there he felt joy at the accumulation of
goods. The steam locomotive snuffled with its thick, peaceful force and
slowly pulled off carloads of public substances: bottles of sulphuric acid,
mounds of ropes, institutional luggage, and unmarked bags with something
useful. The aged man, by the name Pyotr Yevseyevich Veretennikov, was glad
that his city was being supplied, and would go to the cargo delivery
platform to see whether the trains were leaving for the far ends of the
Republic, where people worked and waited for the cargo. The springs of the
departing trains were tightly compressed: they were carrying so much of the
required weight. This also was satisfying to Pyotr Yevseyevich -- the people
over there, for whom the goods were intended, will be provided for.
Not far from the station a settlement of dwellings was being built.
Pyotr Yevseyevich daily followed the growth of the constructions because
thousands of working families will be sheltered under their warm roofs, and
the world will become happier and more honest after their settlement. Pyotr
Yevseyevich would leave the construction field deeply touched by the sight
of labour and material. All this prepared substance would soon, through the
diligence of comradely labour, become a sturdy coziness from the harm of the
weather during fall and winter, for the very contents of the State, in the
form of its population, to be whole and tranquil.
Farther on Pyotr Yevseyevich's way was a smallish forest already used
by the rural public. The wood was only marginally enriched by standing pines
which were however a little worn down. In a dividing trough in that forest
an earth surveyor was sleeping; he was not yet old but weary, perhaps from
earth management. His mouth had opened itself in sleepy lassitude, and a
live, disturbing smell of resinous pines entered the depth of the surveyor's
body and made him healthier there, so that the body was again capable of
managing the wheat ploughmen's earth. The man rested and was being filled
with the happiness of shared repose; his tools, the theodolite and the
measuring tape, lay on the ground and were being hurriedly examined by ants
and a dry spider that always lived individually due to its stinginess. Pyotr
Yevseyevich tore some grass out of its accumulation in the trough, shaped
that grass into a soft pulp of sorts and put it underneath the sleeping head
of the earth surveyor, bothering him gently to attain comfort. The surveyor
did not awake; he only moaned something like a plaintive orphan and sunk
again into sleep. However, it was already better for him to rest on a soft
grass. He would sleep tighter and survey the earth more accurately -- with
this feeling of useful participation Pyotr Yevseyevich went on to his next
The forest ceased quickly, and the earth under the trees became trenchy
furrows and yet undivided lots of rye ploughland. Ordinary villages lived
behind the rye, and above them was air from the frightening space, -- Pyotr
Yevseyevich considered air a good thing also, since from it breathing was
delivered to the entire area of the State. Windless days bothered him
however; the peasants have nothing to grind with, and the infected air stays
over the city, whereby the sanitary condition is worsened. But Pyotr
Yevseyevich bore his anxiety not as a suffering but as a concerned necessity
which occupies the entire soul by its meaning and thereby makes the burden
of one's own life imperceptible. At the moment, Pyotr Yevseyevich was a
little worried for a locomotive that was hauling up some rough freights with
sharp, stifled wisps of steam which reached at Pyotr Yevseyevich's tense
feelings. Pyotr Yevseyevich stopped and with a helpful compassion imagined
the ordeal of a machine pushing the stagnation of sedimentary weight forward
"If only nothing bursts in the couplings," Pyotr Yevseyevich whispered,
grinding his teeth between the itching gums. "And if only there is enough
fire, it has to burn the water! Let it be patient, it's not far until the
The locomotive slithered up slope with screeching rims but did not give
in to the cars that stuck to the rails. Suddenly the locomotive started
giving out frequent and worried honking, asking for the way through.
Apparently the semaphore was closed and the engine-driver was afraid that he
would not be able to start the train up the slope after a stop.
"Oh my God, and what is going on!" Pyotr Yevseyevich exclaimed and,
smitten with sorrow, energetically set out to the station in order to
examine the accident.
The locomotive gave three whistles, meaning stop, while Pyotr
Yevseyevich found a total calmness reign at the station. He sat down in the
third class waiting hall and began to torment himself: "Where is the State?"
he thought. "Where can its automatic order be found?"
"Shchepotko!" the agent on duty shouted to the train marshall. "Let the
fifty-first through to the eighth. Make a remark to the mechanic and to the
head that we are full with transit. Did you dispose of the tanks there?"
"Yes, sir!" answered Shchepotko. "Do not accept any more, I have no
place to put it. We need to finish with the fifty-first."
"Now it's quite understandable," Pyotr Yevseyevich calmed down. "The
State is here because the concern is here. We only need to tell the
population to exist quieter, or else the machines would burst under its
With a satisfied distress, Pyotr Yevseyevich left the railroad juncture
to visit a nearby village named Koz'ma.
In that Koz'ma village there lived twenty-four homesteads. The huts
were built on the slopes of a functional ravine and have suffered this
condition for seventy years. Beside the ravine, the village suffered from
thirst; due to thirst people ate poorly and did not procreate properly.
There was no fresh and quenching water in Koz'ma: there was a small pond
amidst the village, at the bottom of the ravine, but this pond was hedged by
a dam made from manure, while the water flew there from under the dwellings
and places of farming necessity. All manure and the dead remnants of human
life were washed down to the hollow of the pond and were settled into a
yellowish-brown viscous soup that could not serve as a quenching liquid.
During the common epidemics among citizens, namely cholera, typhus or a poor
wheat harvest due to the local soil containing few of the bountiful good,
the people of Koz'ma would lie down on warm stoves and came to their end,
gazing at flies and cockroaches with their eyes. In the old times, they say,
Koz'ma had almost a hundred homesteads, but now there are no traces of the
past thickness of population. Vegetative shrubbery covered the spots
previously populated by the now desolate villas, and there were neither
ashes nor brick or limestone spots under that shrubbery. Pyotr Yevseyevich
had already dug through that place, for he did not believe that the State
could shrink; he felt the multiplying strength of order and sociality,
everywhere he observed the automatic growth of the State-born happiness.
The peasants who lived in Koz'ma respected Pyotr Yevseyevich for giving
them hope and correctly deemed that the whole Republic should know their
need of drinking water, while Pyotr Yevseyevich would support them in that
"You will be provided with drinking," he would promise. "It's the State
after all. The justice occurs automatically, not to mention drinking water!
It is not any kind of dermal disease, is it? No, it is an internal affair:
each citizen needs water as much as the mind!"
"Of course!" the people of Koz'ma would confirm. "The Soviet authority
has us in the watering aspect as first thing. Our turn will come, and we
shall drink our fill! Or did we not drink since old times? We just go
downtown and drink."
"Absolutely right," Pyotr Yevseyevich would determine. "And one also
has to appreciate in addition that life goes drier and stingier with thirst,
and one feels it more from the languish."
"One cannot escape it without water," the peasants would agree. "One
lives as if just swallowed a burning log from a fire."
"This is merely an imaginary impression," explained Pyotr Yevseyevich.
"One would imagine many things when one has a desire to drink. The sun also
seems to you and to us a heat and a force, but one can hide and quench it
with some steam from a kettle -- at once there will be chill on the
table-cloth. It only seems that way to you and to us in the middle of the
Pyotr Yevseyevich always regarded himself and the State with more
respect than the population, unaware of the sense of it, since the
population constantly exists alongside with and is provided by the State
with the necessary life.
Usually Pyotr Yevseyevich was offered food in Koz'ma -- not because of
kindness and plenty, but out of a feeling of security. However, Pyotr
Yevseyevich would never eat others' food: bread grows on a peasant's lot
only for one, not for two -- and so Pyotr Yevseyevich had nothing to eat out
of. The sun, it also burns sparingly and socially: it does not warm up more
bread than for one labouring eater, therefore, there should be no feeding of
guests in the State.
Amidst the summer the village of Koz'ma, as well as all rural places,
suffered from diarrhea, because the berries on the shrubbery and the greens
in the gardens ripened. These fruits would drive the stomachs to
nervousness, to which the watery substance from the pond added. To prevent
that public suffering, the young communists from Koz'ma would start to dig
wells each year, but they would become worn down by the power of impassable
sands and would lie on the ground in languish of fruitless labour.
"How could you do all this without proper arrangement?" Pyotr
Yevseyevich would upset himself and rebuke the young communists. "This is
the soil of the State, the State will also give you a drinking well -- wait
automatically, and for now drink the rains! Your work is to plough the soil
within the bounds of your lots of land."
Pyotr Yevseyevich would leave Koz'ma with a certain grief that citizens
lack water, but also with a happiness of expectation that, therefore, the
forces of the State must be coming there and he shall see them on the way.
Moreover, Pyotr Yevseyevich liked to weaken his peace of mind, as a test,
also by devising a small doubt. This small doubt in the State was on Pyotr
Yevseyevich's mind after Koz'ma because of lack of water in the village. At
home Pyotr Yevseyevich would take out an old map of Austro-Hungary and spend
a long time examining it in quiet meditation; he cared not for
Austro-Hungary but rather for a live State outlined by its borders, a hedged
and protected meaning of civil life.
Under a painting of the Battle of Sevastopol, which adorned the warm,
stable dwelling of Pyotr Yevseyevich, there hung a popular map of the united
Soviet Union. Here Pyotr Yevseyevich would observe with more concern: he
troubled himself about the unshakeability of the border line. But what is a
border line? It is a still frontier of a live and faithful army behind whose
backs the bent-down labour peacefully sighs.
In labour there is a meekness of squandered life, but this spent life
is accumulated in the form of the State, and one must love it with an
undivided love, because it is in the State that the life of the living and
of the dead is untouchably preserved. Buildings, gardens and railways --
what are they but a short life of labour captured for ages? Because of this,
Pyotr Yevseyevich was right in feeling compassion not for the transitory
citizens but for their work, petrified in the image of the State. All the
more necessary was it to conserve all labour that was to become the common
body of the State.
"Are there not birds on the millet?" Pyotr Yevseyevich would suddenly
remember with agitation. "They peck at the young seeds, and what would then
feed the population?"
Pyotr Yevseyevich would hurry to the millet field and, indeed, saw the
"What is going on, oh my Lord God? What will remain whole, if nothing
of good can rest peacefully? These wild elements have exhausted me -- rain,
thirst, sparrows, stopping trains! How can the State live against this? And
yet there are people who are offended at the country: are they real
citizens? They are descendants of the Horde!"
Having driven the birds off the millet, Pyotr Yevseyevich would notice
under his feet a weakened worm that did not manage to follow moisture into
the depths of the earth.
"Now this one exists also, gnawing at the soil!" Pyotr Yevseyevich
would fume. "As if the State cannot do without it!" And Pyotr Yevseyevich
would crush the worm to death: let it now live not in the history of
humanity, which is already crowded enough, but in Eternity.
At the beginning of the night Pyotr Yevseyevich would return to his
flat. The sparrows also became quiet then and would not come to eat the
millet; so the tiny seeds would become more ripened and firm through the
night -- it would be harder to peck at them tomorrow. With the consolation
of this thought Pyotr Yevseyevich would finish eating the crumbs of the
morning breakfast and would lay his head to slumber, but could not fall
asleep. He would imagine things: he would listen and hear the stirring of
mice in co-operative enterprises while the watchmen sat in tea-houses
riveted to the function of the radio, not believing it for joy. Somewhere in
a seldom visited steppe the kulaks are chasing a village correspondent, and
the lonely worker of the State falls down powerless under the brunt of thick
force, similarly to the bread of life falling down dead under an unbalanced
But the memory was merciful: Pyotr Yevseyevich remembered that near
Urals or in Siberia, as the newspaper said, a powerful factory of
complicated threshing machines was started by construction; and at that
recollection, Pyotr Yevseyevich lost consciousness.
In the next morning the old roofers would go to work past his windows;
a glazier carried his material on his shoulder; and a co-operative cart was
transporting beef. Pyotr Yevseyevich sat as if in distress, while he was in
fact delighted by the quietness of the State and the manners of working
people. There, the meek, silent old man Termorezov entered the consumer's
bakery; he daily bought himself a roll for breakfast and left to labour at
the barn of Communist Industrial Union, where the ropes were manufactured
out of hemp for the needs of peasantry.
A barefoot girl tugged a goat by a string to graze in the backyards.
The goat's face with its beard and yellow eyes resembled the devil; it was
however permitted to eat grass on the territory, therefore the goat was
"Let the goat be also," Pyotr Yevseyevich would ponder. "One could
reckon it a junior calf."
The door to the dwelling opened, and a known peasant, Leonid from the
village Koz'ma, appeared.
"How do you do, Pyotr Yevseyevich," Leonid said. "You should have
waited yesterday with us, but instead you hurried away to your flat..."
Pyotr Yevseyevich became flustered and afraid.
"But whatever has happened? Eh? Is not all well in the village there? I
saw a beggar drop a burning cigarette -- did he burn the estate?"
"Well, the village is well and good out of that cigarette... But right
after you left, there were two carts coming from the other end, and an old
man in a carriage behind them. The old man says, 'Citizens, do you perhaps
need deep water?' We say, 'We do, but we ain't got power to reach at it.'
Then the old man says, 'All right, I am a professor from the State and I
will get you the water from the mother layer.' The old man spent the night
and went away, and two technicians remained with instrument and started to
feel inside the soil. Now, Pyotr Yevseyevich, reckon us as we were with
drinks. For this I brought you a jug of milk: were it not for you, we would
have dug in vain, or sat there without drinking, but then you would walk
around and say: wait for the motion of the State, it foresees everything.
That has happened. So drink, Pyotr Yevseyevich, our milk for this..."
Pyotr Yevseyevich sat in disappointment: he again went right past the
live State and missed its pure original action.
"Here," he told Leonid. "Here it came and went. From a dry place it
will procure water for you, that is what it is worth!"
"Who is it then?" Leonid asked quietly.
"Who!" Pyotr Yevseyevich said abstractly. "I myself do not know who it
is, I only adore it in my cogitation, since you and I are merely population.
Now I see everything, Leonid, and I shall hold tight to my hope. Let the
birds peck at the millet, let the watchmen in the co-operative stare at the
radio while mice eat the goods -- the State will suddenly catch up with that
too, and we should live and have patience."
"That is right, Pyotr Yevseyevich: by just not touching anything, one
shall see the good come."
"Exactly, Leonid!" Pyotr Yevseyevich agreed. "Without the State you
would not drink cow's milk."
"But where would it go then?" worried Leonid.
"Who knows where! Maybe grass would not grow either."
"But what would there be?"
"The soil, Leonid, the soil is the main thing! And the soil is a
territory of the State, so there would not be any territory! Where would
your grass ripen then? It does not grow in an unknown place, it needs
territory and earth management. The African Sahara, for one, has no State,
and the Arctic Ocean neither, and that is why nothing grows there: only the
sand, the heat and the dead ice!"
"Shame on such places!" Leonid forcefully affirmed and immediately fell
silent. Then he added in an ordinary human voice: "Come visit us, Pyotr
Yevseyevich, we miss somebody's presence without you."
"Were you strict citizens, you would not have missed anything," Pyotr
Leonid remembered that there was no water yet in Koz'ma, and drank from
Pyotr Yevseyevich's water pail to stock up for the stomach.
After the peasant's departure, Pyotr Yevseyevich tasted the presented
milk and went to wander amid the town. He would touch the bricks of the
houses on his way, stroke the hedges, and thankfully observe what was
unreachable to sensation. Perhaps the people who created these bricks and
hedges were already dead from old age and emaciation of labour, but from
their bodies there remained bricks and boards -- objects that comprised the
sum and substance of the State. Pyotr Yevseyevich had long discovered for
his joy that the State was the useful act of the dead, as well as of the
living but labouring population; without production of the State the
population would die meaninglessly.
At the end of his journey Pyotr Yevseyevich accidentally arrived to the
railway station; hearing the worried honks of the steam locomotives, he did
not completely trust the railroad. Immediately an indignation rose in Pyotr
Yevseyevich: in the third class waiting hall a boy was burning
government-supplied logs in a stove, although it was summer.
"You slime, why do you burn fuel?" asked Pyotr Yevseyevich.
The boy did not take offense, as he was used to his life.
"I was told so," he said. "They let me spend nights at the station for
Here Pyotr Yevseyevich could not think of a reason why one would need
to heat up the stoves in summer. But the boy himself helped Pyotr
Yevseyevich to disperse the puzzlement: there were heaps of rotten logs at
the station, and to avoid carrying them out it had been decided to burn them
in the stoves of the rooms and let the heat come out of the doors.
"Give me, Mister, a couple of kopecks!" asked the boy after his story.
He was asking ashamedly, but without respect for Pyotr Yevseyevich.
However, for Pyotr Yevseyevich the question was not the two kopecks but the
place of this boy in the State: was he necessary? Such thoughts have already
started to torment Pyotr Yevseyevich. The boy reluctantly told him that his
mother and girl sisters lived in the village and had only potatoes to eat.
Mother had told him, 'Go away, perhaps you shall find life somewhere. Or
else, you'd have to suffer with us, but I love you.' She gave him a piece of
bread she borrowed in the village, or maybe she lied and had gone out
peddling. The boy took bread, went out to the railways and climbed into an
empty car. Since then he was going places: he had been to Leningrad, Tver',
Moscow and Torzhok, and now he was here. Nobody would give him a job,
saying: he has little strength and there are many orphans already.
"So what are you up to?" Pyotr Yevseyevich would ask him. "You have to
live and wait until the State looks back at you."
"Can't wait," the boy answered. "The winter will come soon, I am afraid
to die then. Even in summer people die. I have seen one in Likhoslavl': he
went to sleep in a garbage box and died in there."
"But don't you want to return to your mother?"
"No. There is nothing to eat and many sisters, their faces are
pock-marked and the men do not marry them."
"Why didn't they get vaccinated in time? The state doctors vaccinate
everybody at no expense."
"I don't know," the boy said coolly.
"You do not know," Pyotr Yevseyevich exclaimed with annoyance, "but now
one has to take care of you! Your family is at fault for all this: the State
vaccinates against smallpox for free. If your sisters were vaccinated when
they needed it, they would be long married now, and you would have a place
at home! But if you don't want to live according to the State -- so now you
have to wander by railroads. It is all your fault -- go to your mother and
tell her! So why should I give you the two kopecks after this? Never! One
must get vaccinated in time, citizen, or else one would have to free-ride
the trains and wander on the rails!"
The boy was silent. Pyotr Yevseyevich left him there alone, not feeling
any more pity for the guilty.
At home he found a notice: he had to report tomorrow for the next
re-registration at the labour exchange, where Pyotr Yevseyevich was
registered as an unemployed from the Union of Soviet Salespeople. He liked
to visit the labour exchange, feeling that he was serving the State in that
Last-modified: Sun, 26 Sep 1999 13:32:01 GMT
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