“The History of Our Sewage Disposal System”

From “The Gulag Archipelago” Vol 1 by Aleksandr L Solzhenitsyn

“One of the first circulars of the NKVD, in December, 1917,
stated: “In view of sabotage by officials . . . use maximum
initiative in localities, not excluding confiscations, compulsion,
and arrests.” 1

And even though V. I. Lenin, at the end of 1917, in order to
establish “strictly revolutionary order,” demanded “merciless
suppression of attempts at anarchy on the part of drunkards,
hooligans, counterrevolutionaries, and other persons” 2 — in other
words, foresaw that drunkards and hooligans represented the
principal danger to the October Revolution, with counterrevolu-
tionaries somewhere back in third place — he nonetheless put the
problem more broadly. In his essay “How to Organize the Com-
petition” (January 7 and 10, 1918), V. I. Lenin proclaimed the
common, united purpose of “purging the Russian land of all
kinds of harmful insects.” 3 And under the term insects he in-
cluded not only all class enemies but also “workers malingering
at their work” — for example, the typesetters of the Petrograd
Party printing shops. (That is what time does. It is difficult for
us nowadays to understand how workers who had just become
dictators were immediately inclined to malinger at work they
were doing for themselves.) And then again: “In what block
of a big city, in what factory, in what village … are there not
. . . saboteurs who call themselves intellectuals?” 4 True, the
forms of insect-purging which Lenin conceived of in this essay
were most varied: in some places they would be placed under
arrest, in other places set to cleaning latrines; in some, “after
having served their time in punishment cells, they would be
handed yellow tickets”; in others, parasites would be shot; else-
where you could take your pick of imprisonment “or punishment
at forced labor of the hardest kind.” 5 Even though he perceived
and suggested the basic directions punishment should take, Vla-
dimir Ilyich proposed that “communes and communities” should
compete to find the best methods of purging.

It is not possible for us at this time fully to investigate exactly who fell within the broad definition of insects’, the population of
Russia was too heterogeneous and encompassed small, special
groups, entirely superfluous and, today, forgotten. The people in
the local zemstvo self-governing bodies in the provinces were,
of course, insects. People in the cooperative movement were also
insects, as were all owners of their own homes. There were not a
few insects among the teachers in the gymnasiums. The church
parish councils were made up almost exclusively of insects, and
it was insects, of course, who sang in church choirs. All priests
were insects — and monks and nuns even more so. And all those
Tolstoyans who, when they undertook to serve the Soviet govern-
ment on, for example, the railroads, refused to sign the required
oath to defend the Soviet government with gun in hand thereby
showed themselves to be insects too. (We will later see some of
them on trial.) The railroads were particularly important, for
there were indeed many insects hidden beneath railroad uni-
forms, and they had to be rooted out and some of them slapped
down. And telegraphers, for some reason, were, for the most
part, inveterate insects who had no sympathy for the Soviets.
Nor could you say a good word about Vikzhel, the All-Russian
Executive Committee of the Union of Railroad Workers, nor
about the other trade unions, which were often filled with insects
hostile to the working class.

Just those groups we have so far enumerated represent an
enormous number of people — several years’ worth of purge

In addition, how many kinds of cursed intellectuals there were
— restless students and a variety of eccentrics, truth-seekers, and
holy fools, of whom even Peter the Great had tried in vain to
purge Russia and who are always a hindrance to a well-ordered,
strict regime.

It would have been impossible to carry out this hygienic purg-
ing, especially under wartime conditions, if they had had to
follow outdated legal processes and normal judicial procedures.
And so an entirely new form was adopted: extrajudicial reprisal,
and this thankless job was self-sacrificingly assumed by the Che-
ka, the Sentinel of the Revolution, which was the only punitive
organ in human history that combined in one set of hands in-
vestigation, arrest, interrogation, prosecution, trial, and execu-
tion of the verdict. “

““If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”


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