Theses On A Philosophy Of Power
by glossolalia

There is not such another woman upon earth in look, in beauty, and in sense of words.

To her family, six brothers, one sister and parents, she was Yita. When the darkness descended and she began to speak of dreams and real strength, when the rabbi came from the third village over and diagnosed a dybbuk, a malevolent one, Yita left in the night.

It was nearly April. Riotous revolution had already begun to overtake Petrograd: bread riots metamorphosing into strikes, the poor screaming together in a choral symphony, sound changing society.

In the tracks and furrows of early-spring mudroads, melting in the day, freezing again at night, old paper stuffed into the toes of her nearest brother's boots, Yita shed what she could. She could not shake the dybbuk, nor the strength, but she could cease being her mother's troublesome girl.

There were no leaves on the trees yet, just a promising but faint haze of green around the skeletal branches. She raised her hand to the icicle-blue sky and made a fist, turning it in the wan sun. The birch trees beyond were as pale as her skin, as apparently-but-wrongly frail as her girlish bones.

She named herself Ruka and continued toward Petrograd.


All are instruments of labour, more or less expensive to use, according to their age and sex.

Mr. Forrester finds her in a slum apartment she shares with twelve other girls, all workers in a munitions factory on the other side of the river. He is waiting when she and the girls return well after dusk, exhausted and hungry; he sits gingerly on the edge of one mattress, a leather satchel in his lap like a beloved infant.

"Yita Bartel?" he asks, rising, his voice thick and foreign. Blue eyes like buttons moving on the crowd in the doorway. "Come with me."

Ruka remains still; none of her friends know her old name, and some, especially Magda and Irina, would spit to know she was born a Jew. The greater worry, however, is how this well-groomed foreigner knows of her. The police raided Aleksei's rooming house several days ago, and no one knows what happened to him and his brothers.

"What do you want?" she asks, stepping forward, toes curling inside her old boots. Nearly summer, and the air is swampy, especially here inside. She shakes her hair off her face and squares her shoulders. "Who are you?"

He pauses, pink lips rubbing together, and seems to consider her. "You are called," he says, nonsensically, and then he is in front of her, grasping her elbow, his hand slipping in her sweat. The girls behind her part; they know, as well as Ruka does, that one does not fight the police, or whoever it is that this foreigner represents. Challenging them will only bring further reprisals down on their heads.

He hustles her, breathing heavily, down the narrow stairs and out into the dark, steamy night.

"You are required. Your strength must be put to use," he says on the next streetcorner, hailing a carriage and pushing her inside. She has never heard of the police treating their captives quite so well.


The question becomes: how is it possible for us to actively will our own unhappy subjugation?

This is a lovely prison, Mr. Forrester's flat.

Mr. Forrester speaks to her in Russian. Bad Russian; he tried French but Ruka laughed at him. She knows Yiddish and Russian; French is for the rich.

His Russian is abrupt, formal, terribly awkward. He says absurd things in that pinched, nasal voice of his to her like "You will do this because I have suggested that you do so. Now, forevermore, endeavor to play at the swords with me."

Everywhere in the city, life is unravelling from old patterns and knitting itself anew. If she is a soldier, as Mr. Forrester says she is, she should be in the streets. Ruka knows that everyone nowadays is a soldier, but Mr. Forrester attempts to keep her inside.

Mr. Forrester has pink cheeks like a baby girl's, and mild blue eyes at once nacreous and pretty, and carefully-combed, crimped brown hair. Mr. Forrester smells like Englishmen and he insists on telling her ridiculous stories. One girl on this earth, he says, and she shifts the sword to her other hand. She is alone in the world, but that's her father's fault for dying on the front, her mother's fault for having more children than she could possibly feed, and her own fault for leaving.

She will confront, then cut down, the bloodsuckers and other monsters, he says, and he licks his plump English lips and pulls her into his lap. Mr. Forrester is flabby around his middle and he holds her too tightly. She will do as she is told, and fight in glory, and make him proud.

If she kills ten monsters in one week, he takes her to the cinema. Only five, and she receives a sweet, hot mug brewed from his tin of English chocolate.

"You are charged with the great gift, you and only you can keep the world safe," he says and breathes hard and fast like a puppy into her ear.


At this stage, therefore, the proletarians do not fight their enemies, but the enemies of their enemies.

Ruka loathes Mr. Forrester, hates and pities him all at once. But he lets her wear trousers when he takes her out at night and he shook his head when she asked if she had to go to shul. He is a nasty, plump little man, but his apartment is in the central district and she gets both chocolate and baths now, as she did not when she boarded out in the suburbs with the factory-girls.

He has a telephone and receives frequent telegrams from London, Rome, and Stockholm. His Russian does not improve, and he scowls when she laughs at him, but Ruka is already stronger than he could be, and she is practicing, learning the sweep of the sword and the thrust of the dagger, and she bides her time.

She wears trousers and plaits her hair, then pins the braids to her head and Mr. Forrester calls her his own brave Ganymede. When the sun is rising and they return to the apartment, he pushes her at the bed and holds her from behind, his breath damp and noisy, and speaks to her in English. She doesn't answer, because she doesn't know English and because his hand is over her mouth.

Ruka bides her time.


Throughout this country, in all countries, the mass of the proletariat, bled white and enslaved, is waiting for a resolute proletarian policy which alone can bring it deliverance from the Hell of existing conditions.

There are bloodsuckers on every corner.

The usual kind, with fangs and dead eyes and skin like paper, and they die as dust. And the new kind, desperate bourgeois selling silver teapots and lace throws and children's toys to pay for passage out of the country. The monsters are running wild, but, contrary to what Mr. Forrester says, Ruka is not the only one fighting them.

She gathers handbills, stuffing them into her pockets, and rips posters from the walls, reading them quickly with burning eyes before Mr. Forrester catches up with her.

She attends meetings in shabbier districts all through this hot, confusing summer. She sees her old friends and shakes off their questions, leaning forward to hear the speakers - Bolsheviki, a few Mensheviki jeered from the podium, anarchists muttering more fairy tales. These are smoky, clamorous meetings, clandestine, the doors guarded by large male comrades, where the sins of owners and bosses are laid bare.

Ruka remembers all the names.


Only we, in living, give and are given meaning.

Running from the riot, when it is too late to do anything but run, she wheels when she glimpses something wrong in the last alley. Shadows, disturbed and too thick; her eyes have grown so acute these last six months that she can see danger as well as she can descry her own hand.

He is large, over six feet, broad-shouldered, but haggard, and he is hiding a small boy behind him. He steps back, hands up, as if he knows who she is, and says, "You don't want me."

But when she punches him, his face quakes into horror, piss-yellow eyes and ragged fangs. They're all liars, and Ruka kicks his knees until he flails. The boy huddles against the wall, hands on his face, and if she had the breath, she'd yell at him to run. Away from the vampire, toward the militia: it's not much of a choice. Ruka spins and launches herself toward the vampire's chest.

"He's right," a voice calls from the other end of the alley. "He's no target."

The demon ducks Ruka's fist and steps backward again, as if he doesn't want to fight. Ruka turns carefully, keeping him in the corner of her eye, to see the woman behind her. Perfect Russian face, a cap of gleaming yellow hair and a small, curved figure in a smart coat.

"Yelizaveta," the vampire says. "Hell are you doing here?"

"Interceding," she says shortly and moves further into the alley. She stops just before Ruka. They are nearly the same height, and this vampire knows her, though Ruka knows, somehow, that the woman is not a vampire. It is dark back here, but the woman, Yelizaveta, carries the glow of the streetlamps with her, tangled in her hair, suffusing her cheeks. "Do what you must, dear girl, not what you're told."

Ruka tightens her hold on the stake, stalking slowly backwards. "I don't know what you mean," she says, wishing she could see the vampire behind her.

"He's long gone," Yelizaveta says and smiles. A lovely smile, pink candy-floss and glimmer of small, white teeth. "He's not important, but you are."

"Yita! There you are -" Forrester, huffing and puffing into the alley, crimped curls falling sweatily over his forehead. "It no longer remains at all safe here. You must return to the apartment that is shelter."

"Yes, go," Yelizaveta says. "You know what you must do."

Seething, Ruka follows Mr. Forrester, playing at the dutiful girl once more, and his recriminations and warnings spill like gutter-water over her face, unheard but slimy.

She meets the woman again at a workers' committee meeting.

"Think of him," Yelizaveta says. The basement room is empty, the committee meeting long over. Yelizaveta appeared at the side of the speakers, her clothes out of place but her militancy perfectly appropriate. She caught Ruka by the hand when the meeting broke up, and here they are. "What's yours called? Woods? Forrester?"

Ruka nods, slightly mesmerized by the woman's beauty. "Forrester, yes." As if Forrester is just another in a line of descent, just like her.

"Think of Forrester's hand. Plump, isn't it? Spotlessly clean and manicured."


"I'd wager he could barely heft a stake. He stands off to the side, tells you when to fight, parry, retreat."

"He does."

Yelizaveta stretches out her legs, the whispers of silk stockings against each other rising in the empty room, and crosses her ankles as she lights a cigarette. Ruka has grown used to seeing women smoke, but among her friends, men and women both smoke hungrily, wetly. Yelizaveta, however, inhales languorously, as if she has all the time and tobacco in the world. "All are instruments," she says, smoke rising in a curtain over her face, "more or less expensive according to their sex."

She knows Yelizaveta is quoting, and Ruka nods, though she can't place it.

"Change it," Yelizaveta adds.

Scowling, Ruka studies her hands, dirty with the dust of the dead and the grit of coal, calloused, nails broken.

"That's not an order," Yelizaveta says, laughter like silk. "It's all up to you."

"Are you sure," Ruka says slowly, meeting Yelizaveta's strange dark-green eyes, "that you're not just protecting your demon lover?"

Personal ties, loyalties and passions, must be overcome. Ruka knows that very well.

"Angel?" Yelizaveta shrugs. "No lover of mine. He simply needs to persist a while longer. My concern here is -"

"Me," Ruka says, and straightens her back. "Who am I?"

Yelizaveta pinches out her cigarette and stands, golden hair falling back from her face in rippling waves. "There's a story among your people, isn't there, about the widow who slew the Assyrian general? Your namesake, in fact."

Ruka has not been pious for a long time, but Yelizaveta's question is nothing like those spoken by the rabbi. Just a story, not a cresting wave of faith and belief.

"And Ozias the prince of the people of Israel, said to her," Yelizaveta says, "Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth. But she was not alone, was she, Yita?"

"No," Ruka says, stung by this woman's knowledge of her. "Her handmaiden helped. Carried the head in her bag."

"There, you see. You are not alone, and you, like Judith, must work offensively. Forrester is nothing. He would have you defend the world as it is."

Ruka nods, once more, realizing that none of this is an order. This is simply another political meeting, where the speaker urges you to recognize the knowledge of injustice which you already carry in your breast. Yelizaveta is nothing but a handmaiden, and Ruka leaves her to her French cigarettes and silk stockings and vampire lover.


Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.

Take, take, suck and groan: Monsters are just like babies, always eating, demanding attention, draining you of everything.

Mr. Forrester's fairy tales center on pure monsters infecting humanity aeons ago. Before anything resembling this society could have been dreamed of. Yet the monsters' descendants are frightened of wooden crosses and priests' water, things that came much, much later, well after even her people had existed for centuries. Ruka tried at first to understand this history, but she cannot.

A vampire, at his very worst, can kill three people a night. More die of starvation and exhaustion every day. The real monsters, Ruka knows, live like splendid leechs on the misery and degradation of hundreds, thousands, entire villages and classes.

That is the present; Mr. Forrester's monsters are in history, and she does not particularly care about them. Human mosquitoes, she thinks, they will always be here, but she will not.

She has the dreams, every night, and they are the best history lesson she can find. She will die, one more girl in an unending line, and her duty is not, as Mr. Forrester says, to fight his monsters, but to make her presence known. To do as well as she can, fight as fiercely and passionately, in the time she has.

Hers is a temporally-organized class, linear in descent through time rather than horizontally-arrayed across a single moment. She is alone now, but her sisters and comrades preceded and will succeed her.

She bore him as long as she needed to learn what she wanted to know - a fractured, warped story of who she is. Not the truth, but one part thereof.

It was the dreams that first alerted others to the changes in Ruka. The dreams that made the rest of them first suspect the dybbuk. Breathless, roiling dreams under whose weight she flailed and moaned, like a lover and a victim. This is her consciousness, fighting in the bodies of other girls, killing men and demons, on savannahs and veldts and ice floes, wrapped in fur, in linen, in nothing at all beyond smears of blue clay across her cheeks and belly.

Her body is no longer her own; her life springs from another girl's death.

She works for no man but for everyone.


The absurdity of all inherited political thought consists precisely in wanting to resolve men's problems for them, whereas the only political problem in fact is this: how can people become capable of resolving their problems for themselves?

"No, Yita, don't be stupid," Mr. Forrester says and he is tired, sick unto anger at her questions. He has caught a fever and is weaker, damper, than ever. "You don't save the world. You merely protect it."

It is just as she thought.

She leaves Mr. Forrester snoring in bed and finds the real enemies. Krovopoyts, who runs the munitions factory where her friends work and packs shells with sawdust and locks the doors for thirteen-hour days; Laskov, the police commandant; several monks with filthy beards and hands that rove into pocketbooks and up boys' short trousers; Kerensky's under-secretary, a spotty-faced reactionary eager to keep the calm.

All of them would maintain the order on which they feed, drag time to a standstill in the name of efficient progress.

She finds, too, the grand wives in the stifling air of their salons, Madame Chervyaksa, pretty little Miss Eeltsenga and the others like them, discussing English novels and twittering about the latest gossip and loathing each other behind simpering smiles as they share their own minor, ridiculous fairy-stories written in violet ink on paper that costs more a sheet than her winter coat.

Wives, profiteers, conservative politicians, military men: Ruka tracks them all by listening to the rumor and invective swirling around meetings and discussion groups. She slips into their homes, treads over their soft carpets, and she does not have to wait for nightfall to rid the world of these bloodsuckers.

They are cowards when she finds them. Vampires and other, truer monsters fight back; these idiots beg, plead, offer bribes, all to save their own hides. But the children in whose names they plead are fat, spoiled things, fed on blood and misery. The jewels and currency they push at her are soaked in tears and studded with broken bones. They have crouched too long like vultures on mounds of the living, laboring people, fattening, gorging themselves, grinding dreams and freedom to gritty dust heavy with their spit.

When she stakes them, they heave, cry out, and die twitching. Hers is only fist of thousands flying into their plump, smug faces.

They are all dreaming like spiders, entranced by their glittering possessions, satisfied with what the world appears to be.

Slavery is worse than death. She will liberate, not protect.


A colossal upheaval of the entire social and economic structure was required before women could begin to retrieve the significance and independence they had lost.

There are strikes threatened, next week, next month, as October draws to a close, and the streets are filled with tension arcing like sparks off a cat's back.

Ruka comes and goes as she pleases these days. Forrester screams himself hoarse at her, but he is helpless.

She returns for supper one evening, having stopped, dunked her arms in the river to clean herself of the blood of a general's wife, and changed her shirtwaist, to find the flat bare and Forrester pacing.

"There is nothing here but revolt and terror," he tells her and tightens the strap on his trunk. "We embark in the morning for London."

"No," Ruka says, "everything is here."

Forrester smiles, and his eyes are as dead as the monsters she no longer bothers to kill. "You will go to London, because I've told you we will. My superiors demand it."

The stake is in her hand, an enchanted thing, already spinning against her calloused palm with the force of her will, as she tackles him.

His round, hard skull bounces on the floor and he stares up at her, tears welling in his eyes as his lips smack uselessly as a fish's.

"One chance," she says, stake at his thundering heart, thumb and index finger over his windpipe. "Will you let me go, or must I sever myself?"

"Chained to the world," he grunts, "you exist only --"

"Will you be transformed?" she asks, "Master demon or willing servant?"

His eyes roll and spittle gathers in the corners of his lips. So many nights he pushed her down, took what he wanted. "Only because we have made --"

"Nyet, then. Simple enough." His ribs crack under the force of her stake, and she raises it again, punctures his heart until it sprays rotten blood hot and salty over her face.

This is no demon within her, no dybbuk possessing her to wreak malevolent ends. If anything, an ibbur suffuses her and every chest she cracks with her stake, every neck she snaps, accomplishes a mitzvah. Each monstrous death, demon and human, becomes one step toward liberating the world.

Forrester's bosses will be coming after her, ready to cut her down and force her power back into its proper channels, back into a dutiful girl who will kill and protect and do what she is told.

But Ruka is alive now and she acts in the fullness of the now. There is nothing to fear from the future.


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