Your RDA of Irony

Redtime, part II

More of the young Eugene’s “blissful humor”. published in the National Review

III. Petrograd: 1917

Aleksandr Kerensky was setting up the chess board when Lenin came into the room. “Lenny, do want the black or white pieces?”

“It doesn’t matter, Al. We’re all pawns, anyway. I suppose you know the Bolsheviks are going to storm the Winter Palace and seize control of Russia.”

“I’ve seen the ads in the newspaper.”

“These theatrics aren’t my idea. John Reed’s the media consultant. He says I can’t get absolute power without absolute publicity. If the French went around singing ‘La Marseillaise,’ we couldn’t disappoint the reporters by not having a song of our own.
“Mind you, not just any revolutionary ditty would do. Reed had to test-market them all. Imagine five hundred peasants and workers being herded into an auditorium to determine whether they prefer ‘The Internationale’, ‘I Got Plenty of Nuttin’,’ or ‘Anything Goes’!
“And we couldn’t let the French get away with a media coup like storming the Bastille. So Reed has chartered a battleship to sail into downtown Petrograd and fire at the Winter Palace. Then ten thousand Bolshevik extras, waving red banners and praising dialectical materialism, will seize the place. Afterward, there’ll be the usual buffet supper and open bar for the press.”

“Sounds exciting, Lenny.”

“Reed’s not satisfied. He says the Bolsheviks lack charisma. I’ve had several memos about getting a toupee. And now Reed’s decided we won’t use real Communists to storm the Winter Palace. It seems that they just don’t convey the innocence and waiflike charm that Reed wants in a proletarian. We’re auditioning actors, instead. Could you have your friend Stanislavsky send over some of his students to topple the government?”

“Sure. It’ll be a nice change of pace from Chekhov.”

“Now, Al, you mustn’t tell your guards a little secret. They probably wouldn’t fire on a bunch of actors, and we need the casualties for the dramatic effect.”

“I don’t have any guards.”

“There’s no one to defend democracy in Russia?”

“Oh, maybe at a cocktail party, but you know how Russian liberals are. All they can do is write novels. Their idea of defense against a Bolshevik onslaught would be to make a sarcastic remark in French.”

“Al, I’m sending over a couple of regiments of Red Guards to portray your troops. Unfortunately, for our media purposes, they can’t be photogenic.”

“Doesn’t matter to me. All I want out of this revolution is sympathy and a job at an American university. You can do me a favor, though.”

“A letter of recommendation?”

“That’d be nice, too, but I really want to know why I failed. For centuries Russia’s been oppressed. First the Mongols, and then the Czars. Finally, the democrats gained power, established civil liberty, and after six months, we’re being overthrown by popular demand.”

“Al, civil liberty means nothing to Russia. What is freedom of the press to a nation of illiterates? What is freedom of speech to people who won’t open their mouths for fear of frostbite? Russians want only one thing from their government, but it is essential to them. It’s their very reason for living. The Mongols gave it to them, the Czars gave it to them, we’ll give it to them, but democracy never could.”

“What is it?”

“An excuse to drink.”

IV. Moscow: 1920

The disease was either typhus or typhoid. It did not matter to the Russians doctors, since they treated both with leeches. Soon, it did not matter to John Reed either.

Lenin ordered that Reed be given a state funeral, despite Armand Hammer’s advice to sell the body to a medical school. At the ceremony, a 17-gun salute was fired at political prisoners. Trotsky gave so moving a eulogy that Soviet historians now claim that Lenin said it.

Yes, John Reed is gone,” Trotsky thundered, “but the death of one man cannot stop an idea.”

Really?” thought Josef Stalin. “I wonder how many deaths it would take.”

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