An Appeal to the Presidium

by Richard Calhoun

[Translator's Note: Since the fall of the mighty Soviet Empire, vast numbers of official documents have become public, testifying to the nature of life under the Commissars. A curious example from this flood of material is herewith reproduced, by way of cautioning against the creation of a new class of all-monitoring apparatchiks in our own Empire.]

Village of G____
Socialist Republic of N__
December 15, 19__

Excellent and Honorable Comrades!

I address you as the unfortunate victim, if such a term may be used, of two recent and wholly praiseworthy achievements in this, our renowned worker's paradise. Perhaps, indeed, victim is too strong a word to use in describing my current situation. Even so, I feel compelled to suggest to your Excellencies that these otherwise exemplary accomplishments have not proven particularly beneficial to me. Allow me, please, to explain.

Last winter, in obedience to the will of a united people, the Annual Party Congress set forth two "items of highest domestic priority." The first of these proposed a drive to decrease the size of the state bureaucracy. A laudable goal, to be sure; for although the amount of white tape the average citizen encounters has always been minimal, it is only through constant pruning that the organism of state is kept the servant rather than the master of the masses.

In my subsection of the People's Welfare Department, that is the Division of Workers Not Currently Employed, this directive resulted in a drastic but necessary reduction in the size of our staff. In fact, when this action was at length completed, the complement of my formerly bustling agency had been reduced to one computer terminal, one telephone, one desk, one samovar, and myself, Comrade in Charge of the Division of Workers Not Currently Employed.

To be sure, as a result, my normal workload increased considerably. And the small office samovar stood silent and unused in a corner of the office for days on end. But, Excellent Comrades, do not think that I make these observations by way of complaint. The very fact that the functions of the Division continued to be fully and promptly discharged after this reduction in staff proves the wisdom of the Party Congress's decision. The policy of continuing periodic examinations of bureaucratic sub-units as a means of combating the subtle forces of staff engrossment was also a wise and necessary one. In these matters, then, I stood foursquare in accord with the will of the people.

The second of the two "highest domestic priorities" involved a vigorous and continuing effort to eradicate totally the problem of non-employment. Not, to be sure, a very large problem in our tightly organized collectivist state, but as the communiqué issued at the conclusion of the late Party Congress so succinctly put it: "So long as one worker is without employment, we cannot claim to have perfected the model state for which we strive; thus all our efforts must be bent toward the achievement and maintenance of full employment."

Noble sentiments, indeed; and unquestionably near to the heart of every working man and woman! And never stated at a more opportune time, since the immediate effects of the parallel effort to reduce the size of the state bureaucracy greatly enlarged the numbers classified as "Workers Not Currently Employed." I certainly intend no criticism when I observe that at no previous period during my oversight of the Division were my workdays busier or the small office samovar more neglected than during this era of bureaucratic contraction.

It is undeniable that the ultimate result of this effort justified any interim personal inconvenience I might have suffered, even more so when measured against the state's simultaneous striving for full employment. Thus, as the first goal was met, and the second moved toward final fulfillment, I noticed a perceptible slackening in the official business that appeared on computer screen, rang in on the telephone or passed in the form of paper across the desk of the Comrade in Charge of the Division of Workers Not Currently Employed. Happily as well, those afternoons when the little samovar emitted its merry hiss became once again frequent.

The wisdom and fortitude of "democratic centralism" stood once again vindicated on that morning when the front page of The Trumpet of a People Massed as One announced in banner headlines: "Employment Now 100%! Bureaucracy Reduced to Most Efficient Proportions!" On that day, my computer screen remained unlit. My telephone did not ring a single time. And not one single sheet of paper found its way to the desk of the Comrade in Charge. But strangely enough, considering the leisure now at my disposal, even the modestly sized office samovar rested dormant, for no tea, sugar nor fresh lemons were delivered, as they normally were, to the Division of Workers Not Currently Employed sub-unit of the People's Welfare Department.

I understood the blankness of the computer screen, the silence of the telephone and the emptiness of the In basket on the desk. The enforced dormancy of the small samovar, however, was not so easily comprehended. But it is the peculiar genius of our system that such uncertainties are never allowed to persist. So it was that I found two comrades waiting to speak to me the following morning when I arrived at the office. They were, they explained, representatives from the newly established Division of Bureaucratic Oversight and they had come to inform me that, with the achievement of one hundred percent employment, there was no longer any need for a Division of Workers Not Currently Employed.

"As you will no doubt agree," one of the comrades observed, "with all workers now actively engaged in useful and necessary occupations, this office has become, in effect, a sore on the body bureaucratic. A boil, if you will, that must be ruthlessly lanced!" And I did with all my heart agree with the comrade. Although, I must confess, his comparison of my defunct little agency to a "sore" or "boil" did do some slight injury to my feelings.

My duty, as a respectful and loyal citizen of the State, was clear. I straightaway submitted my resignation and, under the watchful eyes of the comrades from Bureaucratic Oversight, made my preparations to vacate the premises. But as I was clearing out the desk drawers of the Comrade in Charge, the computer monitor's lusterless eye suddenly flashed to life. Startled by this unexpected show of animation, I bent down more closely to see what the glowing screen had to report. At that moment, my telephone began to ring and a youthful messenger came bustling into the room carrying a memo addressed to the Comrade in Charge. The two functionaries from Bureaucratic Oversight exchanged puzzled looks.

Now it was my turn to relieve their uncertainty. "Comrades." I announced, "it would appear that unemployment is no longer one hundred percent." For such indeed was the information that had first arrived via the computer, and been subsequently confirmed by telephone and interoffice memo.

The response was one of incredulity. "Nonsense!" snorted the senior Comrade from Bureaucratic Oversight.

"But, here, you can see for yourselves." I showed them a printout of the telltale computer screen as well as the follow-up memo. Neither of them, however, proved capable of understanding the language of these two documents, and I was obliged to translate for them. "It is really quite simple, Comrades. The full employment figure, of course, included me, the active head of an active agency. However, when you just now deactivated me and shut down the agency, the employment rate slipped, however slightly, below one hundred percent, and the inactive agency, now unstaffed, become once again active."

I smiled encouragingly at my two listeners, but my explanation seemed only to have heightened their perplexity. This was clearly a situation neither had been prepared to encounter. They stood upon an unexpected fault, a wholly unanticipated flaw at the juncture of two noble ideas, and beneath them they felt the substrata of official policy shift and quake. Well did I know their dilemma, Excellent Comrades. I too have experienced instances when the very act of implementing a proposal has undermined the foundations of the order it was supposed to strengthen. But of course as an interested party—and one, I assure your Excellencies, utterly sympathetic to the dual objectives of streamlined bureaucracy and full employment—I could not presume to advise my colleagues from Bureaucratic Oversight.

After consulting between themselves and making several calls to their superiors, the two Comrades devised an interim solution. I was reinstated as Comrade in Charge of the reactivated Division of Workers Not Currently Employed and instructed to resign in thirty minutes. Shortly thereafter I would be reinstated to deal with my own unemployment until such time as my reinstatement was noted in state statistics and level of employment once again raised to one hundred percent. At which point I would resign once again. Thus for three days, I resigned every thirty minutes and was reinstated fifteen minutes later. I even managed to work out the timing so that I was each day in a condition of reinstatement when the daily allotment of tea, lemon and sugar was delivered. (I trust this confession does not prejudice my case in your Excellencies' eyes, but I wish to be completely truthful. I can only hope that my fondness for an afternoon glass of tea, when duties permit such indulgence, will be regarded as sufficient mitigation.)

I must say I did not feel that this solution could or ought to be a permanent one, but I was scarcely prepared for the action finally taken by the Comrades at the Division of Bureaucratic Oversight in consultation with the Comrades at the Central Labor Exchange. It is certainly not my wish to seem either harsh or condemnatory in reacting to the solution they have proposed. Obviously the Comrades attempted with genuine Socialist sincerity to respond to the unforeseen challenge posed by their elimination of the Division of Workers Not Currently Employed, and I do not in any way mean to impugn that entirely praiseworthy sincerity. They had to ensure that my departure from the ranks of the State's bureaucracy did not result in any prolonged period of unemployment. And their decision to transfer me directly from one job to another, rather than to oust me from my present position and place me elsewhere, was a brilliant one.

No one applauds this brilliance more than I do. But, honored Comrades of the Presidium, to have transferred me from the desk of Comrade in Charge on a once important subsection of the People's Welfare Department to the position of axe man on an ice cutting crew in the Far North seems to me to be not only a waste of talent, but a misapplication as well of energies heretofore thoroughly devoted to serving the State. I do not, I hasten to add, regard myself as the butt of some malicious joke, nor yet the victim of some inexplicable vendetta. Yet, honorable and excellent Comrades, I do not see how my placement in a situation more suited to my capacities can be objected to. I do not mention personal preference here, for no one is more cognizant than I that we are all Servants of the State, to be employed as it directs. Nonetheless I feel moved to point out that such misemployment of proven ability is not in the interests of the Collective Good and to respectfully request that I be transferred to a position in which I may better serve that Collective Good.

I offer myself, then, as Comrade in Charge of a wholly new agency, the Division of Workers Currently Misemployed. On what grounds do I propose this idea? Well, as my own situation suggests, among the many millions of workers in our great Socialist Union, there must always be a certain small percentage inappropriately placed. Although a small numerical error, unavoidable among so large a labor force, it must still involve numbers sufficient to justify the establishment of a single, small bureaucratic sub unit. The housing for such an agency, to be staffed by a single individual (myself), already exists; that is the office formerly occupied by the Division of Workers Not Currently Employed. The computer terminal, telephone, desk, and samovar (I pray that no one from Bureaucratic Oversight has filched the samovar) are waiting to be pressed into the People's service, as is your humble petitioner,

Comrade C____.

Richard Calhoun lived and worked in New York City for many years as an editor and writer before moving to Costa Rica. His short story "A Curious Dilemma" appeared in Issue #5 of The Cafe Irreal and "The Parade" appeared in Issue #7.