Gladkov’s Cement is a novel depicting post civil war Russia during 1921
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The main character is a hero of the revolution by the name of Gleb Chumalov. Gleb returns to his home town where he worked as a mechanic before the war. Finding the factory he worked in devasted, and his wife distant; Gleb sets out to rebuild his life. Through Gleb’s attempt to rebuild this cement factory, and rebuild his relationship with his wife, Gladkov reveals his views of the New Economic Policy, gender, family life, women’s public participation and the bureaucratization of the Bolshevik party.
The NEP, New Economic Policy, was the restructuring of the Soviet economy to integrate elements of capitalism in order to ensure the continuation of Bolshevik power. In the novel the NEP is portrayed as a betrayal of the revolution. Various times through out the novel examples of negative effects upon the revolution are attributed to the NEP. Examples such as production of pipe lighters on the job, and petty theft from the factories are associated with the NEP. (59) Gleb, Mekhova and others viewed the NEP in the novel as an end to equality among workers, and a return to the capitalist system of Tsarist Russia.
Gleb states in reference to the NEP, “… and that will be the end of your real work. ” (188) Gladkov states, “Reaction is powerless. And isn’t the New Economic Policy reaction? Isn’t it the restoration of capitalism? ” (188) Clearly Gladkov believes that the NEP is a betrayal of the revolution and a return to capitalism. The opening of cafes and stores disgusts Mekhoval, and other revolutionaries due to its capitalist roots. The idleness supposedly created by the NEP upsets Gleb and other diligent workers. Gladkov even makes it seem like the NEP is completely unnecessary by showing the effectiveness of Gleb’s efforts to rebuild the factory.
One of the characters defends the NEP on the basis of easy work and luxuries; this type of view is shown too be evil, and against the nature of the communist revolution. The NEP however, is not the main change Gleb combats. Gleb is greatly dismayed to find his wife Dasha completely detached from him when he arrives home after three years. (6) He does not understand the social changes that have occurred in his house during the revolution. Gladkov uses his character of Dasha to portray how Russian women gained a sense of individualism and independence during the war.
Gleb remarked to himself, “This force had crushed the former Dasha, and the present Dasha was bigger and finer than the old. ” (69) Working in the factories, being active in women’s groups, and maintaining the family without their husbands taught many Russian women that they did not need their husbands. (54) Dasha admits to Gleb that she cheated on him and feels no remorse. She is liberated from the obligations to serve her husband and remain loyal to him. The revolution had taught her to rely on herself, and too stand up to men as an equal.
This shows the wild swing in gender roles in Russia, from the typical subservient peasant girl too the proud independent working woman. (27) These new changes in gender roles had a profoundly negative effect on family life in Russia. The group homes took children out of the care of the family, and into the hands of the State. These group homes had poor facilities and little food, and many children died in the horrible conditions. Gleb and Dasha’s daughter Nurka died in the home from lack of love.
Dasha remarked, “Nurka was a blossom torn from the branch and thrown upon the highway. (254) The new social roles also affected the housekeeping and family time. Gleb stated, “Now I’ve come home, in my own house, and you are not a part of it. I’ve been hanging round waiting for you here like a deserted mongrel, and I haven’t slept for nights. ” (27) Dasha spent all her time concentrating on the work of the revolution, and ignored her child and husband. Gladkov makes it clear that family life in Russia is in a horrible state that ought not to be in. One of the major advantages Gladkov points out in the new roles of women is increased political and social participation.
Women have their own political groups, and are members of local workers committees and of the Communist Party. Dasha’s work for the party is highly valued by the Party leadership, and the views of the women, while often derided by the men, are still adhered too. (282) The major complaint of Gladkov is the bureaucratization of the party. The antagonists in the story were the bureaucrats who opposed the creation of the factory. Throughout the novel Gleb is working against the bureaucrats who are seeking to line their pockets rather than aid Mother Russia. It’s a shame and a disgrace, Comrades. . . . Bureaucracy and formalities are devouring us. ” (90) Every time Gleb attempts to get assistance from one of the committees, Economics, Forestry, Industry he is stopped by red tape and back talk. Gleb as the hero manages to break through the layers of bureaucracy due to his plain speech, and strong will.
“You ought to be all kicked out, you blasted drones! You’ve got the working-men into a hell of a harness! One should have horns on one’s head and fists of steel to smash your fat bureaucracy. (91) The attitudes and actions of the workers and Gleb shows Gladkov’s belief in the power of the common man, and his disgust for bureaucracy. Gladkov’s novel Cement covers many of the changes in post civil war Russia. The New Economic Policy is portrayed as a betrayal of the revolution, and the return to the evils of Capitalism. New freedoms for women are seen by Gladkov as beneficial to the revolution, except for the negative effects on the family. The great evil of bureaucratization is shown to be the greatest challenge to the success of Communism in Russia.
Ultimately, Gladkov shows a pessimistic view of post-Revolutionary Soviet society. The elimination of party members due to disagreement with policy shows the totalitarian nature of the new regime. Such as with Sergey who disagreed with the NEP, but was a loyal Communist supporter. The lack of affection towards children, such as the death of Nurka, and the baby floating in the sea shows the negative view of Soviet society; the massive bureaucratization that oppresses the worker is also another negative of post-civil war Russia. All of these elements spell the doom to Communism in Russia, as Gladkov never saw, but did manage to predict.