‘Northern Lights’ by Boris Pilnyak from The New Masses. Vol. 5 No. 1. June, 1929.

‘Northern Lights’ by Boris Pilnyak from The New Masses. Vol. 5 No. 1. June, 1929.

In the Northeast of European Russia, where the northern and southern Keltmas meet and are united by the North-Ekaterinovski channel, are scattered many villages, settlements and communities which are not to be found in the geographies. There on the endless rivers, swamps and forests, the people saw and float timber, fish and hunt. The sky there is always gray, the rivers deep and the forests impenetrable. The villages are far apart from each other. In winter the regions are covered with heavy snows. The nights are illuminated by the Aurora Borealis.

It was the beginning of winter when a man from the mouth of the northern Keltma came to Moscow. He announced himself to the editors of the peasant Radio News and related a confused story of his journey. He had walked three hundred versts. He travelled the remainder of the way to the city of Koltas on floating rafts. But in Koltas he was arrested. There was something wrong with his identification papers. For a month and a half he was detained until his identity was established. Then he was set free. He travelled from Koltas to Moscow sometimes beating his way on freight cars, the art of which he had already mastered, or walking the railroad ties. At the end of the fifth month of his journey he appeared in Moscow. In his bark shoes and home-made shirt the man had the appearance of a savage — but his eyes were lively and sharp. He was a man in the early thirties, with a long Finnish beard covering his throat. He was lean and black as mother earth. No doubt he was frightened by the city of Moscow; just as a Moscovite would be scared of the bears, wolves and dark woods of his native Kadom.

He knocked at the door of the peasant Radio News office at seven in the morning, and waited until two, when the editors arrived. In the meanwhile he succeeded in having a fight with the office scrubwoman.

As he entered the Editor’s office, he pulled his chair next to the editor’s. He placed his small bundle on the floor, next to himself. For the first time in his long journey he felt he was sitting among his kind. His eyes were happy and bright.

— “This is how it happened,” he said, closing one eye as though aiming at an Elk. — “The peasants in our locality distrust the radio. I put a loud speaker in our village. But the peasants decided it is a ‘devil,’ an ‘unclean Spirit’. Altho I am the elder in the village I am unable to knock it out of their heads. So, we called a conference and decided that I, Pavel Krainich, shall go to Moscow, and speak to them through the radio with my own voice, to convince them that it is I who speaks and not the devil.” The peasant untied his bundle. He took but some silver coins wrapped in rags, which he dropped on the table.

— “That’s the thing, I almost lost the money,” he said. “This money the peasants collected to pay you. Will you permit me then to speak to them over the radio?”

The editors of the Radio-News agreed to let the peasant speak over the radio. For three days, sleeping at night on the editors’ tables, the peasant remained in the office, waiting for his turn to speak. On the third day he spoke over the radio. His eyes sparkled with happiness as he firmly approached the microphone.

“Fellows! Peasants! Do you hear me?” He cried out. “It is I Pashukha speaking. When I left the artel, I travelled on floating wood. In Koltas I was arrested but I hid your money…Fellows from Kadomsk! I am speaking, the peasant Pashukha! Do you hear me? Give my regards to my wife Katusha. I also bow deeply to our village president Karp Ivanovitch. I am at present in the city of Moscow and speak to you thru the radio. The comrade editor, here next to me is a witness…Fellows from Kadomsk! Do you hear me? It is I, Pashukha Krainich!”

The same night, without waiting for the promised horses, which were to take him as far as the city of Koltas, Pashukha Krainich disappeared from the office.

Moscow at that time was getting ready for winter. It is a city of a million people: with skyscrapers, automobiles, nights illuminated by electricity; days gray with chimney smoke; busy men who lived, loved and died, who stand in crowded lines at the movies, or at the bread stores, to the accompanying music of factory whistles.

An amazed scrubwoman of the peasant Radio News was relating a strange story to the office force how the peasant Pavel Krainich from the village of Kadomsk, mistook the bathtub for the water closet.

Three months later, in the month of December, the letter carrier brought to the office of the Radio News a letter which read as follows:

“Dear Comrade Editor: —

“In the first lines of my letter I greet you and your comrades. I travelled safely and was not arrested any more.

“The winter has brought us a heavy snow. My voice was not heard by the Kadom peasants, because two weeks after I left, the peasants broke the speaker, and when the news arrived that I was arrested, they drowned it in the river Keltma.

“I wish you to remain in good health.

“Peasant Pavel Krainich.”

The eyes of Pavel Krainich were greenish, sharp and bright. His long Finnish beard reached to his throat. His straight hair parted in the middle and fell on both sides like the straw with which the village roofs are thatched.

However there aren’t any straw roofs in Pavel’s region, no bread grows there. Under the gray sky amid the dark woods log huts stand. The woods are inhabited by elks, bears, wolves, skunks, and sables. In the winter time at three o’clock at night, lights play. Their disappear into the infinity of the Aurora Borealis.

There are many villages, communities, settlements, which are not to be found on the maps in geographies.

The New Masses was the continuation of Workers Monthly which began publishing in 1924 as a merger of the ‘Liberator’, the Trade Union Educational League magazine ‘Labor Herald’, and Friends of Soviet Russia’s monthly ‘Soviet Russia Pictorial’ as an explicitly Communist Party publication, but drawing in a wide range of contributors and sympathizers. In 1927 Workers Monthly ceased and The New Masses began. A major left cultural magazine of the late 1920s and early 1940s, the early editors of The New Masses included Hugo Gellert, John F. Sloan, Max Eastman, Mike Gold, and Joseph Freeman. Writers included William Carlos Williams, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Day, John Breecher, Langston Hughes, Eugene O’Neill, Rex Stout and Ernest Hemingway. Artists included Hugo Gellert, Stuart Davis, Boardman Robinson, Wanda Gag, William Gropper and Otto Soglow. Over time, the New Masses became narrower politically and the articles more commentary than comment. However, particularly in it first years, New Masses was the epitome of the era’s finest revolutionary cultural and artistic traditions.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/new-masses/1929/v05n01-jun-1929-New-Masses.pdf

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