Part Three. March 27
HANKOW was close by: the to and fro movement of sampans almost covered the river. The chimneys of the arsenal became detached from the hill behind it little by little, almost invisible under their enormous smoke; through the bluish light of the spring evening the city with all its colonnaded bank buildings appeared at last through the sharp black framework of the foreground — the battleships of the Western nations. For six days Kyo had been ascending the river, without news from Shanghai.
A foreign launch whistled against the ship’s side. Kyo’s papers were in order, and he was accustomed to clandestine action. He merely took the precaution to move to the forward part of the ship.
‘What do they want?” he asked a mechanic.
“They want to know if we have rice or coal on board. We’re not allowed to bring in any.’’
“In the name of what?”
‘A pretext. If we bring coal they say nothing, but they arrange somehow to have the ship laid up in port. No way of bringing provisions to the city.”
Over there were chimneys, cranes, reservoirs-the allies of the Revolution. But Shanghai had taught Kyo what an active port was like. The one he saw before him was full of nothing but junks and torpedo-boats. He took his field-glasses: a freight-steamer, two, three.
. A few more. His was docking on the Wuchang side. He would have to take the ferry to get to Hankow.
He went ashore. On the dock an officer on duty was watching the passengers land.
“Why so few ships?” asked Kyo.
“The Companies have got everything out of sight: they’re afraid of the requisition.”
Everyone in Shanghai thought the requisition had been put into effect long before.
“When does the ferry leave?”
He had twenty minutes to wait. He walked about at random. The kerosene lamps were being lit inside the shops; here and there silhouettes of trees and the curved- up roof-ridges rose against the Western sky, where a light without source lingered, seeming to emanate from the sofmess of the sky itself and to blend far, far up with the serenity of the night. In the black holes of shops-notwithstanding the soldiers and the Workers’ Unions-doctors with toad-signs, dealers in herbs and monsters, public writers, casters of spells, astrologers, and fortune-tellers continued their timeless trades by the dim light which blotted out the blood-stains. The shadows melted rather than stretched on the ground, bathed in a bluish phosphorescence; the last flash of the superb evening that was being staged far away, somewhere in the infinity of worlds, of which only a reflection suffused the earth, was glowing faintly through an enormous archway surmounted by a pagoda eaten away with blackened ivy. Beyond the din of bells and phonographs and the myriad dots and patches of light, a battalion was disappearing into the darkness which had gathered in the mist over the river. Kyo went down to a yard filled with enormous stone blocks: those of the walls, leveled to the ground in sign of the liberation of China. The ferry was close by.
Another fifteen minutes on the river, watching the city rise into the evening sky. At last, Hankow.
Rickshaws were waiting on the quay, but Kyo's anxiety was too great to allow him to remain idle. He preferred to walk. The British concession which England had abandoned in January, the great world banks shut down, but not occupied. “Anguish-a strange sensation: you feel by your heart-beats that you’re not breathing easily, as if you were breathing with your heart. ” It was becoming stronger than lucidity. At the corner of a street, in the clearing of a large garden full of trees in bloom, gray in the evening mist, the chimneys of the Western manufactures appeared. No smoke. Of all the chimneys he saw, only the ones of the Arsenal were operating. Was it possible that Hankow, the city to which the Communists of the entire world were looking to save China, was on strike? The Arsenal was working; could they at least count on the Red army? He no longer dared to run. If Hankow was not what everyone believed it was, all his people were already condemned to death. May too. And himself.
At last, the building of the International Delegation.
The entire villa was lighted up. Kyo knew that Borodin was working on the top story; on the ground-floor the printing-press was running at full speed, with the clatter of an enormous ventilator in bad condition.
A guard in a rough-neck sweater examined Kyo. Taking him for a Japanese he was already pointing out to him the orderly in charge of directing strangers, when his eye fell upon the papers Kyo was handing him; he immediately led him through the crowded entrance to the section of the International in charge of Shanghai. Of the secretary who received him Kyo only knew that he had organized the first insurrections in Finland; a comrade, his hand held out across his desk, while he gave his name: Vologin. He had the plumpness of a ripe woman rather than of a man; was this impression due to the delicacy of his features, both full and ruddy, slightly Levantine in spite of his’ fair complexion, or to the long strands of hair, mrning gray, cut to be brushed back but which fell over his cheeks like stiff bands?
“Things look very bad in Shanghai,” said Kyo abruptly. “We’re headed in the wrong direction.”
His own words surprised him: his thoughts were running ahead of him. Yet his words said what he would have wanted to say: if Hankow could not bring the help that the sections were expecting from it, to give up their arms would be suicide.
Vologin, ensconced in his armchair, drew his hands up into the khaki sleeves of his uniform and bent his head a little forward.
“Still!. ” he muttered.
“First of all, what’s going on here?”
“Go on: in what respect are we pursuing the wrong policy in Shanghai? ”
“But why, why aren’t the manufacmres running?” “Wait a minute. Who are the comrades who’re protesting?”
“Those of the combat groups. The terrorists too.” “To hell with the terrorists. The others. ”
He looked at Kyo.
“What do they want?”
“To leave the Kuomintang. Organize an independent Communist Party. Give the power to the Unions. And above all, not surrender their arms. Above all.”
“Always the same thing.”
Vologin got up, looked through the window towards the river and the hills. His face was expressionless except for a fixed intensity like that of a somnambulist, which alone gave it life. He was short, and his plump back, almost as round as his stomach, made him appear hunchbacked.
“I’ll tell you. Suppose we leave the Kuomintang. What will we do then?”
“To begin with, a militia for every workers’ union, for every syndicate.”
“With what firearms? Here the Arsenal is in the hands of the generals. Chiang Kai-shek now holds the one in Shanghai. And we’re cut off from Mongolia: consequently, no Russian arms.”
“In Shanghai it was we who took the arsenal.”
“With the revolutionary army behind you. Not in front of you. Whom can we arm here? Ten thousand workers, perhaps. In addition to the Communist nucleus of the ‘Iron Army’; another ten thousand. Ten bullets per man! Against them, more than seventy-five thousand men here alone. Without mentioning, of course-Chiang Kai-shek, or the others. Al too eager to make an alliance against us, upon our first really Communist move. And with what would we provision our troops?”
“What about the foundries, the manufactures?” “Raw materials have stopped coming.”
Standing motionless by the window, against the deepening night, Vologin continued-his face turned away: “Hankow is not the capital of the workers, it’s the capital of the unemployed. There are no arms; that’s all the better perhaps. There are moments when I think: if we armed them they would fire on us. And yet, there are all those who work fifteen hours a day without presenting any claims, because ‘our revolution is menaced’. "
Kyo was sinking, as one plunges in a dream, lower and ever lower.
“We don’t have the power," Vologin continued; “it’s in the hands of the generals of the ‘Left Kuomintang,’ as they call it. They would no more accept the soviets than Chiang Kai-shek does. That’s sure. We can r e them, that’s all. By being very careful."
If Hankow was only a blood-stained setting. Kyo dared think no further. “I must see Possoz on my way out," he said to himself. He was the only comrade in Hankow in whom he had confidence. “I must see Possoz. "
“. Don’t hold your mouth open with that-er- stupid expression," said Vologin. “The world thinks Hankow is Communist-so much the better. That does credit to our propaganda. It’s no reason for it to be true."
“What are the instructions right now?"
“To reenforce the Communist nucleus of the Iron Army. We can weight one tray of the scale against the other. We are not a force by ourselves. The generals who are fighting with us here hate the soviets and Communism as much as Chiang Kai-shek does. I know it, I see it, in fact. every day. Every Communist slogan will bring them down on us. And no doubt will lead them into an alliance with Chiang. The only thing we can do is to destroy Chiang by using them. Then Feng Yu Hsiang in the same way, if necessary. As in fact we have destroyed the generals we have fought up to now by using Chiang. Because our propaganda brings us as many men as victory brings to them. We rise with them. That’s why it’s essential to gain time. The Revolution cannot maintain itself, in short, under its democratic form. By its very nature it must become socialist. We must let it find its own way. Our job is to safeguard its birth. And not to abort it.”
“Yes. But in Marxism there is the sense of a fatality, and also the exaltation of a will. Every time fatality comes before will I’m suspicious.”
“A purely Communist slogan, today, would bring about the immediate coalition of all the generals against us: two hundred thousand against twenty thousand. That’s why you must arrange to get along with Chiang Kai-shek in Shanghai. If there is no way, give up the arms.”
“According to that, it was a mistake to start the Revolution of October: how many Bolsheviks were there?” “The slogan ‘Peace’ gave us the masses.”
“There are other slogans.”
“Premature ones. What would they be?”
“Complete, immediate cancellation of farm-rents and credits. The peasant revolution, without conditions or restrictions.”
The six days he had spent coming up the river had confirmed Kyo in his idea: in those clay cities that had squatted on the river-junctions for thousands of years the poor would be as ready to follow the peasant as to follow the worker.
“The peasant always follows,” said Vologin. “Either the worker or the bourgeois. But he follows.”
“No. A peasant movement lasts only by attaching itself to the cities, and the peasantry by itself can only produce a Jacquerie,1 that’s understood. But there is no question of separating it from the proletariat: the suppression of credits is a fighting slogan, the only one which can mobilize the peasants.”
1 A spontaneous, unorganized peasant uprising.
“In short, the parceling of lands,” said Vologin. “More concretely: many very poor peasants are land- o^ners, but work for the usurer. They all know it. Moreover, in Shanghai we must train the guards of the Workers’ Unions as quickly as possible. Allow them to disarm under no pretext. Make of them our force, against Chiang Kai-shek.”
“As soon as that slogan is known, we shall be crushed.” “Then we shall be crushed in any case. The Communist slogans are making headway, even when we give them up. Speeches are enough to make the peasants want the land, speeches won’t be enough to make them stop wanting it. Either we must be willing to participate in the repression with the troops of Chiang Kai-shek-does that suit you? — to compromise ourselves irrevocably, or they will have to crush us, whether they want to or not.” “Everyone in Moscow is agreed that it will be neces- sary-in short, to make the break. But not so soon.” “Then, if it’s above all a matter of being crafty, don’t give up the arms. Giving them up means sacrificing the comrades.”
“If they follow instructions, Chiang won’t make a move.”
“Whether they follow them or not will make no difference. The Committee, Katov, myself, have organized the Workers’ Guard. If you try to dissolve it the whole proletariat in Shanghai will cry treason.”
“Let them be disarmed, then.”
“The Workers’ Unions are organizing of their own accord in all the poor quarters. Are you going to prohibit the syndicates in the name of the International?” Vologin had returned to the window. He dropped his head to his chest, his double chin forming a cushion between them. Night was corning on, full of pale stars.
“To break means certain defeat. Moscow will not tolerate our leaving the Kuomintang at this time. And the Chinese Communist Pany is even more favorable to an understanding with Chiang than Moscow."
“The men at the top only: below, the comrades will not give up all their arms even if you order it. You will sacrifice us, without giving Chiang Kai-shek tranquillity. Borodin can tell that to Moscow."
“Moscow knows it: the order to give up the arms was given the day before yesterday."
Stupefied, Kyo did not answer immediately.
“And the sections have given them up?"
“Half of them-barely. "
Just two days ago, while he was meditating or sleeping, on the boat. He knew, too, that Moscow would maintain its line. His realization of the situation suddenly invested Ch’en’s plan with an obscure value:
“Something else-perhaps the same thing: Ch’en Ta Erh, of Shanghai, wants to execute Chiang."
“Oh! It’s for that!"
“He sent word, to ask to see me when you were here."
He picked up a message from the table. Kyo had not yet noticed his ecclesiastical hands. “Why didn’t he have him come up right away?" he wondered.
“A very serious matter. . (Vologin was reading the message.) They all say ‘a very serious matter’. "
“Is he here?"
“Wasn’t he supposed to come? They’re all the same: They almost always change their minds. He’s been here for-in fact-two or three hours: your boat was delayed considerably."
He telephoned the order to have Ch’en sent up. He didn’t like interviews with terrorists, whom he considered narrow, arrogant and lacking in political sense.
“Matters were even worse in Leningrad,” he said, “when Yudenich was before the city, and we managed to pull through just the same. ”
Ch’en entered, also wearing a sweater, passed before Kyo, sat down facing Vologin. The noise of the printing-press alone filled the silence. In the large window at a right angle to the desk the darkness, now complete, separated the profiles of the two men. Ch’en, his elbows on the desk, his chin in his hands-stubborn, tense-did not move. “Man’s complete impenetrability takes on something inhuman,” thought Kyo as he looked at ^rn. “Is it because we easily feel a sense of contact through our weaknesses?. ” Once he had got past his surprise he judged it inevitable that Ch’en should be here, that he should have come to affirm his decision himself (for he did not imagine that he would argue). On the other side of the rectangle of starry night stood Vologin, strands of his forelock falling over his face, his fat hands crossed on his chest, also waiting.
“Did he teU you?” asked Ch’en, indicating Kyo with a motion of his head.
“You know what the International thinks of terrorist acts,” Vologin answered. “I’m not going to make you- in short, a speech on that subject.”
“The present case is special. Chiang Kai-shek alone is sufciently popular and sufficiently strong to hold the bourgeoisie united against us. Do you oppose this execution, yes or no?”
He remained motionless, leaning on the desk with his elbows, his chin in his hands. Kyo knew the argument had no essential validity for Ch’en, even though he had come here. Destruction alone could put him in accord with himself.
“It’s not up to the International to approve your plan.” Vologin spoke in a matter of fact tone. “Moreover, even from your point of view. ” Ch’en still did not move “. is the moment, in short, well chosen?”
“You prefer to wait until Chiang has had our people murdered?”
“He will make decrees and nothing more. His son is in Moscow, don’t forget. And there’s also this: a number of Galen’s Russian officers have not been able to leave Chiang’s staff. They will be tortured if he is killed. Neither Galen nor the Russian staff will countenance it. ”
The question has apparently been discussed right here, thought Kyo. There was something indescribably futile and hollow in this discussion, which made him uneasy: he found Vologin singularly more determined when he ordered the arms to be given up than when he spoke of the murder of Chiang Kai-shek.
“If the Russian officers are tortured,” said Ch’en, “it can’t be helped. I also will be tortured. Of no interest. The millions of Chinese are surely worth fifteen Russian officers. Good. And Chiang will abandon his son.”
“What do you know about it?”
“And you? You undoubtedly won’t even dare to him.”
“Undoubtedly he loves his son less than himself,” said Kyo. “And if he does not try to crush us he is lost. If he does not stop peasant activity his own officers will leave him. So I’m afraid he’ll abandon the boy, after obtaining a few promises from the European consuls or some other such farce. And the whole petty bourgeoisie which you want to rally, Vologin, will follow him the day he disarms us: it will be on the side of force. I know them.”
“Remains to be proved. And there isn’t only Shanghai.”
“You say you’re dying of starvation. Once Shanghai has been lost, where will you get provisions? Feng Yu Hsiang separates you from Mongolia, and he will betray you if we are crushed. Therefore, nothing by the Yangtee, nothing from Russia. Do you think the peasants to whom you’ve promised the program of the Kuomintang (rw: nty-five per cent reduction in farm-rents, no joking- Oh, but really, no joking!) will die of hunger in order to feed the Red army? You’ll put yourself in the power of the Kuomintang even more completely than you are now. To undertake to fight against Chiang now, with real revolutionary slogans, with the backing of the peasants and the Shanghai proletariat, is risky but not impossible: the First Division is almost entirely Communist, from the general down, and will fight with us. And you say we’ve kept half the arms. Not to try is simply to wait placidly to have our throats cut.”
“The Kuomintang is there. We haven’t made it. It’s there. And stronger than we are, for the time being. We can destroy it from below by introducing into it all the Communist elements we have at our disposal. An immense majority of its members are extremists.”
“You know as well as I do that numbers are nothing in a democracy against the ruling apparatus.”
“We are demonstrating that the Kuomintang can be used by using it. Not by argument. For two years we have used it unceasingly. Every month, every day.”
“As long as you have accepted its aims; not once when it was a question of its accepting yours. You have led it to accept gifts which it was dying to get: officers, volunteers, money, propaganda. The soldiers’ soviets, the peasant unions-that’s another matter.”
“What about the exclusion of the anti-Communist elements?”
“Chiang Kai-shek didn’t yet have Shanghai in his power."
“Before a month is up we’ll have him outlawed by the Central Committee of the Kuomintang.”
“After he has crushed us. What difference can it make to those generals of the Central Committee whether the Communist militants are killed or not? They’ll be just that much ahead! Don’t you think-really-that the obsession with economic fatality is preventing the Chinese Communist Party, and perhaps Moscow, from seeing the elementary necessity which is under our very noses?”
“That is opportunism.”
“Very well! According to you Lenin shouldn’t have used the parceling of lands as a slogan (for that matter it was featured much more prominently in the program of the socialist-revolutionaries, who didn’t have the remotest idea of how to apply it, than in the prograi of the bolsheviks). The parceling of lands was the establishment of petty property; therefore he should have advocated, not parceling, but immediate collectivization — the sovkhozes. Since he was successful you can see that it was a question of tactics. For us also it’s only a question of tactics! You’re losing control of the masses. ”
“Do you imagine Lenin kept it from February to October?”
“He lost it at moments. But he was always with them, moving in the same direction. As for you, your slogans go against the current. It’s not a matter of a mere sidestep, but of directions which will become more and more divergent. To act on the masses as you expect to do, you would have to be in power. That doesn’t happen to be the case.”
“.Al this is beside the point,” said Ch’en.
“You won’t stop the activity of the peasants,” Kyo answered. “At the present moment we Communists are issuing to the masses orders which they can consider only as betrayals. Do you think they will understand your waiting slogans?”
“Even if I were a coolie in the Shanghai port I would think that obedience to the Party is the only logical at- titude-in short-of a militant Communist. And that all the arms must be given up.”
Ch’en got up:
“It’s not through obedience that men go out of their way to get killed-nor through obedience that they ^il. Except cowards.”
Vologin shrugged his shoulders.
“We musm’t consider assassination-after all-as the chief path to political truth.”
Ch’en was leaving.
“At the first meeting of the Central Committee I shall propose the immediate parceling of lands,” said Kyo, holding out his hand to Vologin, “the cancellation of credits.”
“The Committee won’t vote them,” answered Volo- gin, smiling for the first time.
Ch’en, a squat shadow on the sidewalk, was waiting. Kyo joined him after having obtained the address of his friend Possoz: he was in charge of the harbor commission.
“Listen. ” said Ch’en.
The vibration of the printing-presses, transmitted by the ground, controlled and regular like that of a ship’s engine, went right through them: in the sleeping city the delegation building was awake with all its lighted windows, across which black figures moved back and forth. They walked, their two similar shadows before them: the same figures, the same effect of their sweater- necks. The straw-huts glimpsed through the perspective of the streets, with their purgatory silhouettes, disappeared in the depth of the calm and almost solemn night, in the smell of fish and burnt grease; Kyo could not free himself from that reverberation of machines transmitted by the soil to his muscles-as if those machines for manufacturing truth were encountering, within himself, Vo- login’s hesitations and affirmations. During his journey up the river he had constantly felt how poorly informed he really was, how difficult it was for him to get a solid basis for his activity if he no longer consented purely and simply to obey the instructions of the International. But the International was wrong. It was ao longer possible to gain time. The Communist propaganda had reached the masses like a flood, because it was what they wanted, because it was their o-wn. However cautious Moscow might be, this propaganda could no longer be stopped; Chiang knew it and was henceforth committed to crushing the Communists. There lay the only certainty. Perhaps the Revolution could have been conducted in some other way; but it was too late. The Communist peasants would take over the lands, the Communist workers would demand a different labor system, the Communist soldiers would no longer fight unless they knew why they were fighting-whether Moscow wanted it or not.
Moscow and the enemy capitals of the West could organize their opposing passions over there in the night and attempt to mold them into a world. The Revolution, so long in parturition, had reached the moment of its delivery: now it would have to give birth or die. At the same time that the fellowship of the night brought Ch’en closer to him, Kyo was seized by a feeling of dependence, the anguish of being nothing more than a man, than himself; there came back to him the memory of Chinese Mohammedans he had seen, on nights just like this, prostrate on the plains covered with sun-scorched lavender, howling those songs that for thousands of years have torn the man who suffers and who knows he is to die. ^\Vhy had he come to Hankow? To inform the International of the situation in Shanghai. The International was as determined as he had become. What he had heard, much more distinctly than the arguments of Vologin, was the silence of the factories, the distress of the dying city, bedecked with revolutionary glory, but dying none the less. They might as well bequeath this cadaver to the next insurrectional wave, instead of letting it dissolve in crafty schemes. No doubt they were all condemned: the essential was that it should not be in vain. It was certain that Ch’en also felt bound to him by a prisoner’s friendship:
“It’s not knowing … " said the latter. “If it’s a question of killing Chiang Kai-shek, I know. As for this fellow Vologin, it’s all the same to him I guess; but for him, instead of murder, it’s obedience. For people who live as we do there must be a certainty. For him, carrying out orders is sure, I suppose, as killing is for me. Something mist be sure. Must be."
He was silent.
“Do you dream much?" he went on.
“No. Or at least I don’t remember my dreams much."
“I dream almost every night. There is also distraction-day-dreaming. When I let myself go, I sometimes see the shadow of a cat, on the ground: more terrible than anything real. But there is nothing worse than dreams.”
“Than what kind of real thing?”
“I’m not the sort to feel remorse. In the business of murder the difficult thing isn’t to kil-the thing is not to go to pieces: to be stronger than. what happens inside one at that moment.”
Bitterness? Impossible to judge by the tone of voice, and Kyo could not see his face. In the solitude of the street the muffled hum of a distant car died away with the wind, which left the fragrance of orchards trailing among the camphor odors of the night.
“. If it were only that. No. It’s worse. Creatures.”
“Creatures. Octopuses especially. And I always remember.”
In spite of the vast reaches of the night, Kyo felt near to him as in a closed room.
“Has this lasted long?”
“Very. As long as I can remember. For some time it’s been less frequent. And I only remember. those things. I hate memories, as a rule. And I seldom have any: my life is not in the past, it’s before me.”
“. The only thing I’m afraid of-afraid-is going to sleep. And I go to sleep every day.”
A clock struck ten. Some people were quarreling, in short Chinese yelps, deep in the night.
“. or going mad. Those octopuses, night and day, a whole life-time. And one never kills oneself, it appears, when one is mad. Never.”
“Does killing change your dreams?”
“I don’t think so. I’ll tell you after. Chiang.” Kyo had once and for all accepted the fact that his life was menaced, and that he was living among men who knew that theirs was daily menaced: courage did not astonish him. But it was the first time that he encountered the fascination of death, in this friend whom he could scarcely see, who spoke in an absent-minded voice-as if his words were brought forth by the same nocturnal power as his own anguish, by the all-powerful intimacy of anxiety, silence and fatigue. However, his voice had just changed.
“Do you think of it with. with anxiety?”
“No. With. ”
“I’m looking for a word stronger than joy. There is no word. Even in Chinese. A … complete peace. A kind of. how do you say it? of. I don’t know. There is only one thing that is even deeper. Farther from man, nearer. Do you know opium?”
“Then it’s hard to explain. Nearer what you call. ecstasy. Yes. But thick. Deep. Not light. An ecstasy towards. downward.”
“And it’s an idea that gives you that?”
“Yes: my own death.”
Still that distracted voice. “He wiH kill himself,” thought Kyo. He had listened to his father enough to know that he who seeks the absolute with such uncompromising zeal can find it only in sensation. A craving for the absolute, a craving for immortality-hence a fear of death: Ch’en should have been a coward; but he felt, like every mystic, that his absolute could be seized only in the moment. Whence no doubt his disdain for everything that did not lead to the moment that would join him to himself in a dizzy embrace. From this human form which Kyo could not even see emanated a blind force which dominated it-the formless matter of which fatality is made. There was something mad about this silent comrade meditating upon his familiar visions of horror, but also something sacred-as there always is about the presence of the inhuman. Perhaps he would Chiang only to kill himself. As Kyo tried to make out through the darkness that angular face with its kindly lips, he felt in himself the shudder of the primordial anguish, the same as that which threw Ch’en into the arms of the octopuses of sleep and into those of death.
“My father believes,” said Kyo slowly, “that the essence of man is anguish, the consciousness of his own fatality, from which all fears are born, even the fear of death. but that opiwn frees you from it: therein lies its virtue.”
“One can always find terror in himself. One only needs to look deep enough: fortunately one can act; if Moscow gives me its approval, it’s all the same to me; if Moscow disapproves, the simplest thing is to know nothing about it. I’m leaving. Do you want to stay?”
“I want to see Possoz before anything else. And you won’t be able to leave: you have no visa.”
“I’m leaving. Certainly.”
“I don’t know. But I’m leaving. I am sure of it. It was necessary that I Tang Yen Ta, and it is necessary that I leave. Certainly I shall leave.”
Indeed, Kyo felt that Ch’en’s will in the matter played a very small role. If destiny lived somewhere, it was there tonight, by his side.
“You find it important that it should be you who carry out the plot against Chiang?”
“No. And yet I wouldn’t want to leave it to another.”
“Because you wouldn’t trust anyone else?”
“Because I don’t like the women I love to be kissed by others.”
The words opened the flood-gates to all the suffering Kyo had forgotten: he suddenly felt himself separated from Ch’en. They had reached the river. Ch’en cut the rope of one of the skiffs moored to the wharf, and pushed off. Already he was out of sight, but Kyo could hear the splashing of the oars at regular intervals above the lapping of water against the banks. He knew some terrorists. They asked no questions. They composed a group: murderous insects, they lived by their bond of union in a tragic narrow group. But Ch’en..
Pursuing his thoughts without changing his pace Kyo was heading towards the Harbor Conunission. “His boat will be stopped at the very start. ” He reached some large buildings guarded by army soldiers, ahnost empty compared to those of the International. In the hallways soldiers were sleeping or playing “thirty-six.” He found his friend without any trouble. A kindly apple-round face-the ruddy cheeks of a vine-grower, the gray drooping mustache of a Gaul warrior-khaki civilian garb. Possoz had been an anarchist-syndicalist worker in Switzerland, had gone to Russia after the war and become a Bolshevik. Kyo had known him in Peking and had confidence in him. They shook hands quietly: in Hankow any ghost was a normal visitor. “The stevedores are there,” said a soldier.
“Have them come in.”
The soldier went out. Possoz turned to Kyo:
“You observe that I’m not doing a damn thing, old feUow. When I was given the supervision of the port we estimated three hundred ships on an average: there aren’t ten. ”
The port slept beneath the open windows: no sirens, nothing but the steady lapping of water against the banks and the piles. A great ghastly light passed across the walls of the room: the searchlights of the distant gunboats were sweeping the river. A sound of footsteps.
Possoz drew his revolver from its holster, placed it on his desk.
“They’ve attacked the Red Guard with iron bars,” he said to Kyo.
“The Red Guard is armed.”
“The danger wasn’t that they would knock down the guards, old fellow, it was that the guards would pass over to their side.”
The beams from the searchlights re^turned, cast their enormous shadows upon the white inside wall, returned to the night at the very moment the stevedores were entering: four, five, six, seven. In working-blues, one of them naked to the waist. Handcuffs. A variety of faces, hard to make out in the shadow; but, in common, a glow of hatred. With them two Chinese guards, Nagan pistols at their sides. The stevedores remained as if glued to one another. Hatred, but also fear.
“The Red Guards are workers,” said Possoz in Chinese.
“If they are guards, it’s for the Revolution, not for themselves.”
“And to eat,” said one of the stevedores.
“It’s right that the rations should go to those who fight. What do you want to do with them? Gamble for them at ‘thirty-six’?"
“Give them to everyone."
“Already there isn’t enough for a few. The government is determined to use the greatest leniency towards the proletarians, even when they are mistaken. If the Red Guard were everywhere killed off, the generals and foreigners would seize the power again as before-come, now, you know that perfectly weU. Well, then? Is that what you want?"
“Before, we used to eat."
“No," said Kyo to the workers: “before, we didn’t eat. I know-l’ve been a docker. And to die just for the sake of dying-weU, it might as well be in order to become men."
The whites of all those eyes which caught the feeble light grew imperceptibly larger; they tried to get a better look at this fellow in the sweater who had a Japanese air, who spoke with the accent of the Northern provinces, and who claimed to have been a coolie.
“Promises," answered one of them in a muffled voice.
“Yes," said another. ‘We have especially the right to go on strike and to die of starvation. My brother is in the army. Why did they kick out of his division all those who demanded the formation of soldiers’ Unions?"
He was raising his voice.
“Do you think the Russian Revolution was accomplished in a day?" asked Possoz.
“The Russians did what they wanted."
Useless to argue: al they could do was to to determine the depth of the revolt.
“The attack on the Red Guard is a counter-revolutionary act, punishable by death. You know it."
“If we put you at liberty, what would you do?”
They looked at each other; the darkness made it impossible to see the expressions on their faces. In spite of the revolvers and the handcuffs Kyo sensed the atmosphere preparing for one of those Chinese bargainings which he had so often encountered in the Revolution.
“If we get work?” asked one of the prisoners.
“When there is any.”
“Then, in tbe meantime, if the Red Guard prevents us from eating, we shall attack the Red Guard. I hadn’t eaten for three days. Nothing at all.”
“Is it true that they eat in prison?”
“You’ll see for yourselves.”
Possoz rang without saying anything further, and the soldiers led the prisoners away.
“That’s the worst part of it,” he went on, in French this time: “they’re beginning to think that they’re fed in prison like roosters who are being fattened.”
“Why didn’t you try harder to convince them, since you had them brought up?”
Possoz shrugged his shoulders in utter discouragement.
“My dear chap, I had them brought up because I always hope they will tell me something else. And yet there are the others, the chaps who work fifteen, sixteen hours a day without coming forward with a single demand, and who’ll keep right on until we’re quiet, come what may. ”
He had just used a Swiss expression, which surprised Kyo. Possoz smiled and his teeth, like the eyes of the stevedores a minute before, glistened in the dim light, under the obscure streak of his mustache.
“You’re lucky to have kept your teeth like that, with the life one leads in the country.”
“No, my dear chap, not at all: it’s a set I got in Changsha. Dentists don’t seem to have been affected by the Revolution. And you? You’re a delegate? What in the world are you doing here?”
Kyo explained to him, without speaking of Ch’en. Possoz was listening to him, more and more uneasy.
“All that, my dear chap, is very possible, and all the more pity. Listen-I have worked with watches for fifteen years: I know what gears are, the way they depend on one another. If you don’t have confidence in the International, mustn’t belong to the Party.”
“Half the International believes we should create the soviets.”
“There is a general line that directs us-must follow it.”
“And give up our arms! A line that leads us to fire on the proletariat is necessarily bad. When the peasants take the lands, the generals now arrange to involve a few Communist troops in the repression. Would you be willing to fire on the peasants, yes or no?”
“My dear chap, one isn’t perfect: I’d fire in the air, and that’s probably what the fellows are doing. I’d prefer it not to happen. But that’s not the main thing.” “Try to understand, old man: it’s as if I saw a fellow aiming at you, there, and we should be discussing the danger of revolver bullets. Chiang Kai-shek cannot do otherwise than massacre us. And afterwards it’ll be the same thing with the generals out here, our ‘allies’! And they will be logical. We’ll all be massacred, without even maintaining the dignity of the Party, which we lead every day to the whorehouse with a gang of generals, as if it were the place where it belonged. ”
“If each one is going to act according to his taste, it’s aU up with us. If the International succeeds everyone will shout: Hurrah! and at that we won’t be wrong. But if we fire at its legs it will certainly fail, and the essential is that it should succeed. … I know they say Communists have been made to fire on peasants; but are you sure of it, what I call sure? You haven’t seen it yourself, and after all-1 know of course you don’t do it on purpose, but just the same-it suits your theory to believe it. …”
“The mere fact that it’s being said among us would be enough. It’s not the moment to undertake a six months’ investigation.”
Why argue? It wasn’t Possoz that Kyo wanted to convince, but those in Shanghai; and no doubt they were already convinced now, just as he had been confirmed in his decision by Hankow itself, by the scene he had just wimessed. He now had only one desire: to leave.
A Chinese non-commissioned officer entered, all his features elongated and his body slightly stooped, like one of those ivory figures carved into the concave buttresses of battlements.
“We’ve just caught a man in a boat who was secretly trying to get away.”
Kyo held his breath.
“He claims to have received authorization from you to leave Hankow. He’s a merchant.”
Kyo recovered his breath.
“Have given no authorization,” said Possoz. “Doesn’t concern me. Send to the police.”
The rich who were arrested would claim a relation to some official: they sometimes managed to see him alone, and would offer him money. It was wiser than to let oneself be shot without trying to do something. “Wait!”
Possoz drew out a list from his folder, muttered some names.
“All right. The fellow’s even on here. We were looking for him. Let the police take care of ^m!”
The officer went out. The list, a sheet from a notebook, remained on the blotter. Kyo was still thinking of Ch’en.
“It’s the list of people we’re looking for," said Possoz, who saw that Kyo’s eyes remained fixed on the paper. “We get descriptions of the last ones by phone, before the ships leave-when ships do leave. ”
“May I see it?"
Possoz handed it to him: fourteen names. Ch’en’s was not on it. It was impossible that Vologin should not have understood that he would attempt to leave Hankow as soon as possible. And, even on a chance, to have him watched in case he tried to leave would have been no more than common precaution. “The International does not want to take the responsibility for Chiang Kai-shek’s death," thought Kyo; “but perhaps it would accept such a misfortune without despair. Is that why Volo- gin’s answers were so vague?. " He gave back the list.
“I’m going to leave," Ch’en had said. It was easy to explain that departure; but the explanation was not sufficient. Ch’en’s unexpected arrival, Vologin’s reticences, the list, Kyo understood all that; but each of Ch’en’s gestures brought him nearer again to murder, and things themselves seemed to be pulled along by his destiny. Moths fluttered about the little lamp. “Perhaps Ch’en is a moth who secretes his own light-in which he will destroy himself. Perhaps man himself. " Is it only the fatality of others that one sees, never one’s own? Was it not like a moth that he himself now wanted to leave for Shanghai as soon as possible, to maintain the sections at any price? The officer came back, which gave him an opportunity to leave.
The peace of the night once more. Not a siren, nothing but the lapping of the water. Along the banks, near the street-lamps crackling with insects, coolies lay sleeping in postures of people afflicted with the plague. Here and there, little round red posters; on them was figured a single character: HUNGER. He felt, as he had a while ago with Ch’en, that on this very night, in all China, and throughout the West, including half of Europe, men were hesitating as he was, torn by the same torment between their discipline and the massacre of their own kind. Those stevedores who were protesting did not understand. But, even when one understood, how choose the sacrifice, here, in this city to which the West looked for the destiny of four hundred miUion men and perhaps its own, and which was sleeping on the edge of the river in the uneasy sleep of the famished- in impotence, in wretchedness, in hatred?
- 1. Malraux Andre Man's Fate
- 2. Principal Characters
- 3. Man's Fate
- 4. Part One. March 21, 1927
- 5. Part Two
- 6. Part Three. March 27
- 7. Part Four. April 11
- 8. Part Five
- 9. Part Six
- 10. Part Seven