3 February 2012


The wife of an activist who died under strange circumstances,
though more likely than not it was an accident,
says to me that she literally finds herself shaking
from everything that’s going on, the arrests and the interrogations of activists . . .
I’m sure you know the story of N, she says.
A labor activist, they planted drugs on him, he got five years.
International campaigns have proved useless.
Yes, I said, I know, of course.
So what can we do, she says, what sort of action can we plan,
so that everyone finds out? What should we do?
And I say, we have two choices. Either we patiently build the
labor unions . . . or we have to do something really ugly,
because no radical art actions are going to help here,
are going to get through.
And she says, yes, and then what? We commit a terrorist act? That’s the same thing
right now,
as sticking your head out of the trench,
and getting it blown off . . .
And as for labor unions, she says,
I know the labor activists,
they’re wonderful people, but
it’s all
so slow . . .
How long will it take,
although, it’s true, it’s the only way.
In the end it’s the labor unions
that are the true workshop of communism.
Yes, I say, right now that’s the situation,
no matter what anyone says,
and who knows what the future may bring, but for the moment
the progressive labor activists have a higher political consciousness
than the intellectuals,
than the professors,
it’s just too bad there are so few of them.
But strategically that’s the most important thing.
She says, You’re right, I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to unionize
the supervisors,
they’re too dependent on their private interests . . .
Night comes on
the cold streams in, streams in, streams in,
and enters
through the gates, through our sleeves
through our skin
enters our blood,
and somewhere in a warm room
on a soft bed on white
a pretty young mother
is stroking her little child
sleep sleep sleep my little one
sleep my baby child
sleep sleep don’t listen
to the wind howling
the cars rustling
sleep tighter my little one
gather strength
you’ll need lots of strength
the working class needs brave strong tough fighters
there are difficult times ahead.

—Translated from the Russian by Keith Gessen


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