Maximilian Voloshin (1924) by Boris Kustodiev
Great Peter was the first true Bolshevik;
his project: to project his Russia, against
all her customs, all her inclinations,
hundreds of years into some distant vista.
And like us all, he knew no other way
save execution, torture and diktat
to realize truth and justice upon earth.
If not a butcher, you could call the tsar
a sculptor — his material not marble
but flesh, hacking out a Galatea
and flinging scraps aside. But no man builds
alone. What else was our nobility
but our first Communists? Our nobility
was — all in one — the Party, secret police
and Ivan the Terrible's Oprichniki,
a hothouse for the breeding of strange cultures.
[. . .] Bakunin reflects the Russian countenance
in every way — what intellectual boldness,
what sweep of thought, what soaring flights and falls!
Our creativity lies in anarchy.
All Europe took the path of fire — but we
bear in our hearts a culture of explosion.
Fire needs machines and cities, factories,
blast furnaces; an explosion, unless it aims
to pulverise itself, needs the containment
of steel rifling, the matrix of a heavy gun.
This is why Soviet hoops all bind so tight,
why the autocracy's flasks and retorts
were so refractory. Bakunin needed
Nicholas — as Peter's streltsy needed Peter,
as Avvakum needed Nikon. This is why
Russia is so immeasurable — in anarchy
and in autocracy alike, and why no history
is darker, madder, more terrible than hers.
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