I am loving this book. Russian novels have an intense brilliance, and Bulgakov offers an intense and tragic satire on the early Bolshevik years from one who was persecuted and impoverished for the sake of his artistic integrity. The recrudescence of socialist thinking today is widely remarked, and it is a valid question how far the extremes described by Bulgakov have a resonance today.
The overall satirical theme of the chapter is that Soviet Russia is a haunted flat, haunted by the wailing ghosts of everyone who has been purged. From the initial trauma of the neighbours who are mystified by the disappearances, through to the final magicking of Stepa thousands of kilometres away to Yalta, the message is that the politics of internal exile and execution has brutalised Soviet life, sending a chill message of silent conformity or death.
The chapter title, the haunted flat, is openly explained as meaning the problem of unaccounted disappearance of the occupants. The devil must purge Stepa, as all the previous occupants have been purged. The purge was a theme in Kafka’s The Trial
, where the accused deals with a labyrinthine unaccountable bureaucracy, just as Stepa is baffled and disempowered by the hypnotic mystery of the devil’s astounding contract. The fait accompli, the event accomplished without warning, is part of the syndrome of the purge, and the devil must get Stepa out of the way to achieve his goals.
Yes, and not only artists. The fact that Stepa is oblivious to the fact that he has in fact not only signed but paid a first instalment of an appalling deal, a bargain with the devil that no one in their right mind would entertain, is an excellent metaphor for Lenin’s dictatorship of the proletariat.
Woland’s idea of a series of seven black magic performances in the main theatre of the capital is outrageous and completely unbelievable. But then, the idea that the Germans would put Lenin in a sealed train from Zurich and inflict him on Russia as a weapon of war like a dose of botulism, as the Kaiser’s High Command actually did, much to everyone’s later chagrin, is Bulgakov’s moral equivalent to the satiric Satanic performance.
And Stepa’s presence in Moscow is inconvenient for Woland, hence Yalta beckons, a much more pleasant place to be purged to than the Kolyma or the White Sea Canal.
Berlioz is mentioned on the first page of the chapter as the co-tenant of the haunted flat with Stepa, and then again when Stepa finds that Berlioz has apparently been purged too, since his lock is sealed. (Stepa is unaware of the sad death). This practice of communists using political connections to have people arrested to get their flat was sadly common in Soviet times, according to Solzhenitsyn. That was easy since anyone owning a large flat was obviously a capitalist expropriator who deserved to be expropriated.
The whole of The Master and Margarita
draws strongly from Goethe’s Faust
, comparing the Soviet system to the loss of soul resulting from the pact agreed between Dr Faustus and Mephistopheles the devil.
I was surprised to find from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sorce ... Apprentice
that Goethe also wrote The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
, which is the source of this idea of an unstoppable spell. And that idea was well and widely known, including by reference in The Communist Manifesto
, where Marx and Engels compare modern bourgeois society to "the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells."
Of course everyone in Soviet Russia knew The Communist Manifesto
backwards, so Bulgakov is engaged in a deliberate obvious irony with this satirical inversion, applying the spell-making accident to the Soviets rather than the bourgeoisie. Part of the meaning is that once the communists have taken control of the state, they can perpetuate their rule through unstoppable brazen thuggery.
Yes, and this perpetuation of a syndrome of suffering is an old trope, even from the Ten Commandments, where God explains that he will "punish the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” The moral law of karma applied to this situation means that we are fated to copy those whom we react against.
Given that OGPU/KGB used torture as a routine method to extract confessions in the Lubyanka, Berlioz would only need to be shown the instruments, like Galileo, to class this persuasion feared by Stepa as tortuous.
Paraphrasing the remark from Jesus about those who live by the sword at Matt 26:52. Yes, Bulgakov is presenting the Soviet maelstrom as a spiralling catastrophe, where the act of buying in by Berlioz and Stepa continues a cascading domino pattern, as they fall after pushing others over, living and dying by the toxic psychology of denunciation.