Rest Homes for Workers

For months Zorin had been thinking of a project to afford the toilers of Petrograd an opportunity to recuperate during the summer. The workers are systematically undernourished and exhausted⁠—a few weeks’ rest and an improved pyock would give them new strength, and would at the same time be a demonstration of the interest the Communist Party is taking in their welfare.

After protracted discussion Zorin’s idea was approved by the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, and he received authority to put his cherished dream in operation. The former villas of the Russian nobility in the environs of the city were to be turned into proletarian “rest homes” and rebuilt to hold fifty thousand workers, who will spend two weeks there in groups of five thousand.

Zorin enlisted my cooperation, and I have enthusiastically accepted. We have paid several visits to Kameny Island, where the most beautiful villas and palaces are situated, and I have worked out a detailed plan for transforming them into homes for small families of workers, providing also for dining-rooms, libraries, and recreation places. Zorin has appointed me general manager and requested that the work be rushed “in hurry-up American style,” as he expressed himself, in order that everything be completed by the 1st of May, which is to be celebrated on a large scale as a revolutionary holiday.

The island has been neglected since the Revolution; most of the villas need thorough renovating and even the roads are badly out of repair. We mean to create an artistic summer resort, with modern improvements and comforts for the benefit of the proletarians. Surely no government has ever undertaken such work before.

Architects and civil engineers are on hand, but we find great difficulty in procuring building material and efficient labor. The Petrograd warehouses are stocked with the things needed, but it is almost impossible to learn just what is on hand and where it is to be found. When private property was nationalized, the stores and warehouses were sealed, and no one apparently knows what they contain. Our architects, engineers, and workers fly about the city, wasting their time in a vain effort to secure the required material. For days they crowd the various bureaus to procure “authorized orders” for a few spades or lengths of water pipe, and when these are finally secured, we are balked by the general ignorance as to where the object sought can be found. In this situation the only economic and efficient mode of procedure would be to have our own committee overhaul the warehouses and take an inventory of the stock on hand. But my proposition to this effect has impugned upon the thick wall of the prevailing bureaucratic system. The Commissars of the various departments⁠—all Communists⁠—are inclined to take offense at such apparent ignoring of their authority: established modes of procedure have to be followed. Moreover, the stores and warehouses had been sealed by the Cheka; without its permission in each particular case the locks cannot be touched. The Cheka frowns upon my suggestion, coming from a nonmember of the Party, at that. Nitcheve ne podelayesh, Zorin says.

I find the new Soviet bureaucracy, its inefficiency and indifference, the greatest handicap in the work. It involves a continuous struggle against official red tape, precedence, and petty jealousy. Time is passing, and almost no progress is being made. The situation is disheartening.

I consider it vital that the men employed in the work of preparing a recreation place for the proletariat should themselves feel an interest in the matter, for only thus can effective cooperation be secured and results achieved. I have, therefore, suggested the formation of a committee to visit the shops and factories, to explain our plan to the workers, and enlist their interest and voluntary aid. I pointed out also the moral value of such a proceeding, and offered to organize the committee from the Buford deportees, most of whom are still looking for employment. Zorin favors the idea, but objections have been raised in various quarters. I wonder whether it is official distrust of the Buford men or disinclination to permit such a committee to get in direct contact with the workers. At any rate, the carrying out of my suggestion has become involved in endless applications to various Commissars and has apparently been lost in the intricate network of the Soviet machinery.

Instead, soldiers and prisoners from the forced labor camps of the city have been commandeered for road repairing, cleaning neglected gardens and renovating the houses. But they have no interest in the work; their thoughts and time are entirely occupied with the question of the pyock. A most vital matter: for not being employed at their regular tasks, they risk losing the rations due them, and no adequate provision has been made to feed them on the island. A general mess hall has been opened, but such favoritism prevails there that the prisoners and soldiers without influence often remain without meals, preference being given to the numerous friends and appointees of the Commissars and Communists. The common laborers at work are growing dissatisfied. “The actual worker,” a soldier said to me, “will not get into the summer resort. It will be only for Commissars and Communists.”

Some buildings in the area of the planned rest homes are occupied as children’s homes and schools; others, by the families of the intelligentsia. All of them have been ordered to vacate. But while arrangements have been made to secure quarters for the schools in the city, the private dwellers are considered bourzhooi and as such not worthy of any consideration: they are to be evicted. Yet hidden influences are at work: a number of the bourzhooi have received “protection,” while those without friends in high places are vainly begging for mercy. Zorin has asked me to execute the order for eviction, but eager as I am to establish rest homes for the workers, I had to refuse to cooperate in what seems to me gross injustice and needless brutality. Zorin is displeased at my “sentimentality,” and I am being eliminated from the work.