I am, in general, allergic to theoretical discussions of socialism and dialectic, but the theoretical discussions of Platonov (see here and here for his novels) aren’t like anybody else’s. Here are two brief excerpts from his brief 1934 “On The First Socialist Tragedy,” translated at New Left Review with an introduction placing it in context:

One should keep one’s head down and not revel in life: our time is better and more serious than blissful enjoyment. Anyone who revels in it will certainly be caught and perish, like a mouse that has crawled into a mousetrap to ‘revel in’ a piece of lard on the bait pedal. Around us there is a lot of lard, but every piece is bait. One should stand with the ordinary people in their patient socialist work, and that’s all. …
In sociology, in love, in the depths of man the dialectic functions just as invariably. A man who had a ten-year-old son left him with the boy’s mother, and married a beauty. The child began to miss his father, and patiently, clumsily hanged himself. A gram of enjoyment at one end was counterbalanced by a tonne of grave soil at the other. The father removed the rope from the child’s neck and soon followed in his wake, into the grave. He wanted to revel in the innocent beauty, he wanted to bear his love not as a duty shared with one woman, but as a pleasure. Do not revel—or die.

Is it any wonder he had a hard time getting published amid the enforced optimism of the ’30s? (Via wood s lot.)
Addendum. The TLS has published Robert Chandler’s translation of the same text; it makes for an interesting comparison, and Chandler’s introduction is illuminating. (Hat-tip to Oliver Ready for alerting me.)


  1. the bait pedal
    Never would I have guessed the word for that part of a mousetrap, the Bicycle of Death.

  2. His essay reads like a draft insert for a much bigger piece.
    The idea of humans being part of ‘technology’ is wonderfull. And, coming from someone trained as a civil engineer, is particularly insightful.
    Why do NLR have some articles open and some behind the pay-wall?

  3. rootlesscosmo says:

    The assertion that ideology doesn’t belong to the “superstructure” already puts him at odds with the version of “DiaMat” which by then was being imposed as the only correct explication (or “enrichment”) of Marxist theory. I find this passage of Platonov reminiscent of some of Gramsci’s ideas, whose survival we owe to the inefficiency and corruptibility of Mussolini’s prison guards; their Soviet counterparts, had Gramsci fled Italy for the USSR, would never have let the Prison Notebooks slip through, or, probably, let their author live long enough to write them. I never thought I’d see Italian Fascism as the silver lining to anything, but there you are.

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