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Russian Revolution in “Cement” by Gladkov Essay

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Updated: May 5th, 2022

The novel Cement by Gladkov vividly portrays social and political relations in Soviet Russia and their impact on the life of ordinary citizens. The main events took place in the 1920s when Bolsheviks came to power. The novel demonstrates that one of the true insights of Communism is its understanding of the manner in which all human institutions and activities become perverted to the selfish use of particular groups. Whereas progressive liberalism has hoped for progress through the general education and enlightenment of man, the sectarians and the Communists understand that it will take more than persuasion and education to unseat the powerful from their places of domination. In this sense, we must understand the sectarian note of apocalyptic judgment upon the rich and powerful.

From the very beginning, the novel portrays that social and personal relations in Russia were determined by the Communist Party and communist ideology. In the novel, the communist hero Gleb cannot tolerate that after his return from the war his wife Dasha turns out to be “a free Soviet citizen” (Gladkov, p. 52), who sees in him more a comrade than a husband. She tells him that in his absence she almost had to pay with her life for her part in revolutionary activities and after her liberation has become accustomed to free sexual intercourse with other comrades. She wants her husband Gleb to accept this way of life and is not jealous of herself when another woman tries to win his love. As Gleb cannot conquer his jealousy of her lover, she rebukes him: “You need a woman as a slave you are a good leader but in your life a bad communist” (Gladkov 78). Both husband and wife are so much occupied by Party work that there is no more any question of home life. When after a heavy day’s work they meet in their room, they feel that the thought of personal happiness is: “worthless” (Gladkov, p. 296).

The fact about Revolutionary Russia is that the powerful groups have shown no tendency whatsoever to allow the state to wither away. Quite the contrary, they have been steadily increasing and maintaining their autocratic power. Some of them, like the Communists, wanted a dictatorship, not of the proletariat but of the saints. Its result would have been identical to that of Soviet Russia. But the wiser of them understood that since man used positions of power to exploit the common good, the only solution was to make these positions of power subject to the control of all men in a democratic manner. Gladkov portrays that the Polja who has taken an active part in the civil war is deeply disappointed by post-revolutionary life. As the author in this novel also depicts some bureaucratic and debauched Party members, Polja’s complaints sound convincing: “Is this the necessary result of our suffering and our sacrifices?” (Gladkov, p. 216) she asks, looking at her comrades, who ‘theoretically are all heroes, but in practice only do their utmost to get easy jobs’ (57). She attempts in vain to recover something of the heroism of the civil war in the grey ‘working day’ (Gladkov, p. 57) of the NEP, but she is misunderstood by people around her. She begins to neglect her work and is finally expelled from the Party because she has openly protested against the NEP, ‘the restoration of capitalism’ (Gladkov, p. 193). It is remarkable that the main characters of the novel, the orthodox communists Gleb and Dasha, do not agree with this Party decision and turn against the bureaucratic Party members: they are much more dangerous according to them than this disillusioned romantic woman. In works dealing with the NEP, the type of the vacillating intellectual is of less importance: it is seen that during this period such a type of revolutionary can more easily fulfill his social task because it is not accompanied with so much horror and cruelty as during the civil war. The conflict between pity and duty becomes more superficial and he often succeeds in adapting himself. The Communists recognize this truth as it applies to capitalism but fail to see that it also includes the Communists themselves. Here we have one of the reasons why the sects, for all their similarities to Communism, led to democracy while Communism has led to totalitarianism. The Marxians saw this clearly, and it was implicit in all the doctrines of sin held by the sects. Yet modern believers in progress have completely ignored this fact (Suny, p. 32).

The novel teaches readers that revolution and the new social order changed the values and morals of people. For instance, Dasha even allows their child to pine and die in a children’s home, because Party work must come first. For a moment it seems as if Gleb, too, can accept the new morality when Dasha has a narrow escape from death on a dangerous expedition: ‘she had become dearer to him and more than his wife] a new friend”’ (Gladkov, p. 145), but soon jealousy returns to torment him. What is remarkable is that Gleb, the slave of the old bourgeois morality, seems in this conflict more engaging and more natural than Daša, who has some forced traits. This appears also from her words to a weaker friend: “Let our hearts be of stone” (Gladkov, p. 271). In the end, she decides to leave Gleb. Finally, Gleb finds all his happiness in his work with which he achieves enormous results. When he succeeds in getting concrete works, closed down in the war, going again, and the workers cheer him, all personal sorrow drops away from him (Suny, p. 31).

The truth of this concept is tragically clear, however, to anyone who realistically faces modern history. For example, take man’s development of science. Here surely there is if there is anywhere, an unalloyed step forward. What but good is there in man’s learning to control nature for man’s welfare? Yet the control of nature found by science is control of nature not by all men, but by a few, and the consequence is that the possibilities of concentrated power also grow with science. What begins as the control of nature by man ends all too often as the control of some men by others. Consequently, it is precisely the modern age of science that has made possible the modern form of totalitarianism. Cement presents that all stress is laid on the goodwill and not on the vacillation and uncertainty of Sergej, a typical intellectual, who is one of the minor characters in the novel. He tries to convince himself by means of his intellect that “man is a worthless part of the whole” (Gladkov, p. 283), but from his spontaneous reactions it appears again and again that “not mankind’ but ‘man” (Gladkov, p. 278) is the most important thing for him. When the bourgeois are driven out of their houses he thinks that ‘this cannot be a Party measure’ (Gladkov, p. 186); when former officers are ridiculed he wants people ‘to talk with the enemies as with human beings’ (Gladkov, p. 226). He is not highly thought of by his comrades: ‘Intellectuals are always timid asses in the Party: they always feel slighted and guilty,’ they say, alluding to him. His reaction to this is again ambiguous.

In sum, the novel portrays that the Soviet regime and revolution changed all aspects of life: political, social, and cultural. People were inclined to forget their old traditions and accepted communist ideology. The Communists and the sectarians, seeing that all man’s social structures are corrupted by self-interest, understood that each stage of man’s progress is also a decline. In short, the efforts of man to climb the ladder of progress are never unambiguously successful.

Works Cited

  1. Gladkov, F. V. Cement. Northwestern University Press; Translated edition, 1994.
  2. Suny, R. The Russian Revolution and Bolshevik Victory. Wadsworth Publishing; 3 edition, 1989.
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