electrification / poverty

Back in school we had a young teacher of Russian Literature whom no one in class would listen. Those literature classes were the noisiest, and the students were doing anything except studying Literature and following the teacher’s orders. One day he brought a book, and started reading it to us. After only a few minutes the teacher got our absolute attention. He was reading to us stories by Mikhail Zoshchenko – one of the funniest of Russian writers.

He was often criticized for his careless and simplistic use of language, but behind the mask of semi-literacy was hiding a sober look at the realities of the Soviet Power. The significance of the presented here short story Electrification is the fact that one of Lenin’s most famous slogans was “Communism is Soviet Power plus the Electrification of the Whole Country”.

Even though the story is a satirical look on the Electrification of Soviet Russia, the last sentence contains a very profound message – are we better off living an ignorant or an enlightened life? What’s your take on that?


by Mikhail Zoschenko

What, brothers, is today’s most fashionable word?
Today’s most fashionable word of all is, of course, ‘electrification’.
Lighting up Soviet Russia with light, without doubt, is a matter of massive importance. No one can argue with that. But it does, for the time being, have its downside. I’m not saying, comrades, that it costs too much. It costs money – that’s all. No, I’m saying something different.

What I’m saying is this:
I was living, comrades, in a huge building. the whole of this building ran on paraffin. Some of us had lamps, some – cans of oil with a wick. The poorest had to make do with church candles. Life wasn’t easy.
And then they start to install light.

First its the house manager. Lights up his room – and that’s that. A quiet fellow, doesn’t let on what he’s thinking. Though he wanders about a bit strangely and keeps absent-mindedly blowing his nose.
Bu he doesn’t let on what he’s thinking.

Then in comes my dear wife, Yelizaveta Ignatyevna Prokhorova. Says we should illuminate the apartment.
‘Everyone’, she says, ‘is installing light. The director himself has installed light’, she says.

So – of course – we do the same.
Light is installed, the apartment illuminated – heavens above! What foulness and filth!

Till then, you went to work in the morning, you came back in the evening, you drank down your tea and you went to bed. you never saw a thing with just paraffin. But now, with illumination – you see wallpaper flapping off the wall, and somebody’s beaten-up slipper lying about on the floor. You see a bedbug trotting along, trying to get away from the light. An old rag here, a gob of spit there, a flea frisking about…

Heavens above! It’s enough to make you call the night watchman. Such a sigh is sad to see.
In our room, for instance, we had a sofa. I’d always though it wasn’t a bad sofa – even quite a good sofa! In the evenings I used to sit on it. But now with this electricity – heavens above! Some sofa! Bits sticking up, bits hanging down, bits falling out. How can I sit on such a sofa? My soul protests.

No, I think, I don’t live in luxury. Everything’s revolting to look at. And everything I do goes wrong.
Then I see dear Yelizaveta Ignatyevna. She looks sad. She’s muttering away to herself, tidying things up in the kitchen.

‘What,’ I ask, ‘are you so sad about, dear wife?’
She shrugs her shoulders.
‘I had no idea, my dear man,’ she says, ‘what a shabby life I’ve been living’.

I look at our bits and pieces. Not so great, I think. Foulness and filth. Rags of one kind and rags of another kind. All flooded with light and stating you in the eye.
So I start to get a bit down in the mouth, you might say, when I come back home in the evenings.
I come in. I switch on the light. I briefly admire the lamp, then bury my nose in the pillow.

Then I think again. I get my pay. I buy whitewash, I mix it up – and I set to work. I tear off wallpaper, I stamp out bedbugs, I sweep away cobwebs. I sort out the sofa. I paint, I adorn – my soul sings and rejoices.

I did well. But not that well. It was in vain, dear brothers, that I blew all that money. My wife cut the wires.
‘Light,’ she says, ‘makes life seem horribly shabby. Why,’ she says, ‘shine light on our poverty? The bedbugs will die of laughter.’

I beg her. I argue arguments with her. No use.
‘You can move,’ she says, ‘to another apartment. I don’t want,’ she says, ‘to live with light. I’ve no money,’ she says, ‘to renovate and renew.’

But how could I move, comrades, after spending a fortune on whitewash? I gave in.
Light’s all very well, brothers, but it’s not easy to live with.

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5 Insightful Bits in response to “A Bit Of Literature – Electrification”

  1. :lol: I like the humour of this writer. The conclusion is awesome!

    When was this story published? In Romania, in communist times, such a story would have never get approved to be printed.

  2. Vivien

    Actually, his stories were getting published pretty much right away, he was very popular in the 1920s. He deliberately used such a simple style of writing that confused the officials. It’s not until much later, when he became persecuted in the Soviet Russia, after the issue of Zhdanov Doctrine in 1946.

  3. Deeply simple. Very nice. As for your discussion question, I side with Huxley’s Savage. I’ll take the problems that open eyes bring. It’d be so boring here without them. :)

  4. karlito hubayan

    i agree, things that are light are sometimes funny!

  5. Vivien

    Joseph and Karlito, Thanks for the input.
    I think I still prefer light over dark, known rather than unknown. Otherwise there will be no progress, no improvement, and I’ll never see the light in the tunnel.

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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