Chapter Nine – Koroviev’s Tricks
The attentive reader will recall the conclusion of Chapter Three, where the head of the communist literary editor Berlioz bounced along the street after being detached from his body in precisely the circumstances predicted by Satan, an event that unleashed merry mayhem in Moscow.
Now we are up to Chapter Nine, and the swank apartment of Mr Berlioz has been sealed by the police. The comic mockery of the communist scene opens with all and sundry importuning Nikanor Ivanovich, chairman of the tenant’s association, for the keys to the flat, in view of Moscow’s extreme housing shortage.
Naturally, the communist aversion to private property means there is no functioning rule based housing market, so instead people rely on overcrowding, bribery, and what Bulgakov amusingly lists as “threats, intrigue, denunciations, promises” and pleas, confessions and most interesting of all “a description, shattering in its literary power, of the theft of some meatballs” to get the empty flat.
Under capitalism, rental goes to whoever can pay, and where government is decent there is regulation to prevent discrimination. Russia is different, since under the Soviet system competition and transparency are illegal, meaning people must resort to more desperate stratagems.
Anyway, after unsealing the unfortunate Berlioz’ rooms, who should Nikanor Ivanovich find sitting pretty behind the unfortunate Berlioz’ desk than the devil’s sidekick, the evil Koroviev, replete with “check jacket, jockey cap and pince-nez”. After a bizarre conversation about whether he is official, the demonic intruder plies Nikanor with extreme gifts and then successfully arranges his arrest, all by magic.
The theme of this chapter is the corrupt susceptibility of Soviet life to bribery and deception, which are essential to cope in such a dysfunctional environment, and how easily the thin ice supporting this fragile system can collapse leaving a stricken individual with no recourse or hope.
On a related matter, on the inglorious centenary this/last month, I had the good fortune that my thoughts on this event were published behind its paywall by The Australian
, as follows:
“The centenary of the Russian Revolution is a day of infamy, failure and shame. We should reflect on how communism spawned history’s greatest murderers, with a death toll of 100 million in a direct line from Vladimir Lenin through to Mao Zedong, Pol Pot and Fidel Castro. Despite its evil delusions, communism has somehow retained the chic of its impudent propaganda claim to be on the side of the poor. Communists are moronic tyrants. Society today ignores this core lesson from history at great peril.”