In the Moskkommune

The Commissar of our ossobniak, having to lay in provisions, invited me to accompany him to the Moskkommune. It is the great food supply center, a tremendous organization that feeds Moscow and its environs. Its trains have the right of way on all lines and carry food from parts as distant as Siberia and Turkestan. Not a pound of flour can be issued by any of the “stores”⁠—the distributing points scattered throughout the city⁠—without a written order signed and countersigned by the various bureaus of the Commune. From this center each “distributor” receives the amount necessary to supply the demands of the given district, according to the norm allowed on the bread and other cards.

The Moskkommune is the most popular and active institution; it is a beehive swarming with thousands of employees, busy determining the different categories of pyock and issuing “authorizations.” Besides the bread rations, sugar, tea, etc., given to the citizen by the “store” of his district, he also receives his ration in the institution that employs him. The pyock differs according to the “quality” of the citizen and the position he occupies. At present soldiers and sailors receive 2½ lbs. of bread per day; Soviet employees 3 lbs. every two days; those not working⁠—because of age, sickness or disability other than military⁠—receive ¾ lb. There are special categories of “preferred” pyock; the academical for old scientists and professors whose merits are recognized by the State, and also for old revolutionists not actively opposed to the Communists. There are “preferred” pyocks in important institutions, such as the Comintern (the Third International), the Narkominodel (Foreign Office), Narkomput (Commissariat of Railways), Sovnarkhoz (Soviet of Public Economy), and others. Members of the Communist Party have the opportunity of receiving extra rations through their Communist organizations, and preference is given them in the departments issuing clothing. There is also a Sovnarkom pyock, the best to be had, for important Communist officials, Commissars, their first assistants, and other high-placed functionaries. The Soviet Houses, where foreign visitors and influential delegates are quartered, such as Karakhan’s ossobniak and the Hotel Lux, receive special food supplies. These include fats and starches (butter, cheese, meat, sugar, candy, etc.), of which the average citizen receives very little.

I discussed the matter with our House Commissar, who is a devoted Party man. “The essence of Communism is equality,” I said; “there should be only one kind of pyock, so that all will share equally.”

“The Er-Kah-Peh7 decided the matter long ago, and it is right so,” he replied.

“But how can it be right?” I protested. “One person receives a generous pyock, more than enough to live on; another gets less than enough; a third almost nothing. You have endless categories.”

“Well,” he said, “the Red Army men at the front must get more than the city man; they do the hardest fighting. The soldier at home also must be encouraged, as well as the sailor; they are the backbone of the Revolution. Then the responsible officers deserve a little better food. Look how they work, sixteen hours a day and more, giving all their time and energy to the cause. The employees of such important institutions as Narkomput and Narkominodel must be shown some preference. Besides, a great deal depends on how well a certain institution is organized. Many of the big ones procure most of their supplies directly from the peasantry, through special representatives and the cooperatives.”

“If anyone is to receive preference, I think it should be the workers,” I replied. “But they get almost the worst pyock.”

“What can we do, tovarish! If it were not for the cursed Allies and the blockade, we’d have food enough for all,” he said sadly. “But it won’t last long now. Did you read in the Izvestia that a revolution is to break out soon in Germany and Italy? The proletariat of Europe will then come to our aid.”

“I doubt it, but let’s hope so. In the meantime we can’t be sitting and waiting for revolutions to happen somewhere. We must exert our own efforts to put the country on its feet.”

The Commissar’s turn in line came, and he was called into an inner office. We had been waiting several hours in the corridors of the various bureaus. It seemed that almost every door had to be entered before a sufficient number of resolutsyi (endorsements) were secured, and the final “order” for supplies obtained. There was a continuous movement of applicants and clerks from office to office, everyone scolding and pushing toward the head of the line. The waiting men watched closely that no one got ahead of his proper place. Frequently someone would march straight to the office door and try to enter, ignoring the queue.

“Into the line, into the line!” the cry would be raised at once. “The sly one! Here we’ve been standing for hours, and he’s just come and wants to enter already.”

“I’m vne otcheredi” (not to wait in line), the man would answer disdainfully.

“Show your authorization!”

One after another came these men and women vne otcheredi, with slips of paper securing immediate admission, while “the tail” was steadily growing longer. “I’m standing three hours already,” an old man complained; “in my bureau people are waiting for me on important business.”

“Learn patience, little father,” a workman replied good-humoredly. “Look at me, I’ve been in line all day yesterday since early morning, and all the time these vne otcheredi kept coming, and it was 2 p.m. when I got through the door. But the chief there, he looks at the clock and says to me, says he, ‘No more today; no orders issued after 2 p.m. Come tomorrow.’ ‘Have mercy, dear one,’ I plead. ‘I live seven versts away and I got up at five this morning to come here. Do me the favor, golubtshik, just a stroke of your pen and it’s done.’ ‘Go, go now,’ the cruel one says, ‘I haven’t time. Come tomorrow,’ and he pushed me out of the room.”

“True, true,” a woman back of him corroborated, “I was right behind you, and he wouldn’t let me in either, the hardhearted one.”

The Commissar came out of the office. “Ready?” I asked.

“No, not yet,” he smiled wearily. “But you’d better go home, or you’ll lose your dinner.”

In the Kharitonensky Sergei was waiting for me.

“Berkman,” he said, as I entered, “will you let me share your room with you?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve been ordered to vacate. My time’s up, they say. But I have nowhere to go. I’ll look in the morning for another place, but meantime⁠—?”

“You’ll stay with me.”

“But if the House Commissar should object?”

“Are you to be driven into the street in this frost? Remain on my responsibility.”