(With thanks to Slim Brundage)
How many years, old man! Lewisham, Genoa, years ago, that little room where we argued so fiercely all one evening; the congresses, that flawed, so flawed Respect campaign, the hotels in little towns. Their common memories came back in such a crowd that not one became dominant; all were present, but silently and unobtrusively, recreating a friendship which had never known words. The Chief sighed. Kondratiev, at the other end of the receiver, could hear the deep fatigue in his voice…
“Well, Vania, what’s the situation now, down there? Speak plainly, you know me.”
“The situation”, Kondratiev began, “The situation…”
The Chief seemed not to have heard this beginning. “You know, veterans like you, members of the old Party, must tell me the truth … the whole truth. Otherwise who will I get it from. I need it. Everything is lies and lies and lies! From top to bottom, they all lie. It’s diabolical … nauseating … I live on the summit of an edifice of lies, do you know that? Party Notes lies of course. it is the sum total of the stupidities of the full-timers at the base, the intrigues at the Centre, the imaginings, the servility … I feel like asking people why, even if they say nothing, their eyes lie. Do you know what I mean?”
Was he finding excuses for himself? He let his voice trail off
Kondratiev was pulled into speaking by the unwanted silence. Should he risk it? He raised an unemphatic, “Isn’t it little your own fault?”
“I’d like to see you in my place – yes that’s something I’d like to see. The Party is a swamp – the farther you go, the more the ground gives, you sink in just when you least expect to … ”
“Like the end of the 70s?”
“Yes … On the surface … But without the Party, without Cliff.”
The Chief paused and Kondratiev thought he could hear the sound of the receiver being placed – on a table? – glasses being lifted from a face, hands rubbing a tired brow.
“I need you to vote the right way on Sunday.”
Kondratiev did not answer. He thought, “That is cruel.”
“We are worth that”, the Chief resumed.
Kondratiev hesitated before answering, for he had thought a great deal on the subject.
“I think”, said Kondratiev, “that you personally have been wrong to associate yourself so personally, twice, with the hearing of a complaint. You must have a sense, don’t you, of the harm the last year has done us? Why can’t we do things better this time?”
“But our plans for Sunday are so carefully crafted”, the Chief countered, “There will be no expulsions this time.”
“Suspensions and a dismissal, do you think the opposition will fall for that?”
The Chief sighed and said nothing.
“I have been so moderate. In December, I attended meeting offering to sponsor the Opposition. I have spoken to Comrade G- offering the Opposition a compromise.”
“And yet with every intervention, you make things worse. It was you who told the first conference ‘This is War'”.
“No I did not.”
“It was you who asked the second conference to treat the opposition with ‘the contempt they deserve’.”
“But I have only been holding back the tide.”
“With every step you take, the thugs and the bullies tighten their control over the organisation.”
The strain the Chief’s voice was audible, “There are three factions in the party, and mine is the Centre, the only moderates.”
“If you offered them peace, do you think anyone in the Opposition would believe a word you say?”
Konradtiev flinched as words exploded from the Chief: “Everyone lies and lies and lies!”
“There is so much servility everywhere, a lack of oxygen”, the Chief continued, “How are we supposed to build the party without oxygen?”
“I could always accuse them of wanting to join Counterfire…”
Here they began, within them and between them, a secret dialogue, which they both followed by divination, distinctly. “Why don’t you leave?”, Kondratiev suggested. “A two, three year sabbatical? It would do you so much good.”
“I never wanted this role”, the Chief countered. “But I am the only one left of the Old Guard. I’m still needed. ”
They spoke none of these words; they heard them, uttered them, only in a double tete-a-tete.
“I pity you, you are the most captive of us all.”
“I don’t want to be pitied. I forbid you to pity me. I have chosen my path and I will live by it.”