Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Set in the 1920s, Andrei Patonovich Klimentov's The Foundation Pit is a literary work that combines the genre of dystopian fiction, political satire, and ethical allegory to present a bleak, bewildering perspective on the newly formed Soviet Union. Voschev, the protagonist of Klimentov's novel, represents the struggle between the collective and the individual. Voschev rebels against the communist ideal that individuals gain their greatest sense of self and purpose when working on behalf of the collective community. Voschev cannot accept that his true identity is discovered or served simply by producing product, contributing to public works, and building up the ideological and infrastructural frameworks of the Soviet Union. While Voschev seeks to find purpose and fulfillment as an individual, he still recognizes that he must work and contribute to the collective good unless he wishes to face personal consequences.
Though he is a machinist by trade, Voschev takes a job helping to dig a foundation pit for a building that will eventually house members of the proletariat, his fellow working class comrades. Digging the foundation pit quickly becomes another activity that causes Voschev to wonder if his life has meaning beyond hard labor. In his work at the foundation pit, he meets a cast of characters who represent a variety of perspective working class individuals likely had during the rise of the communist regime in Russia. Some are zealous political activists, ready to help advance the efforts of the Marxists. Others empathize more with Voschev and his concerns that prizing the collective over the individual may not ultimately serve either entity well.
As the workers reach what they believe to be the point of completion on the foundation pit, they are informed that the pit will need to be expanded to be four times its size to house all the people who will ultimately live there. Coinciding with the sharing of this revelation that this is yet more work to do is an announcement of a pogrom that will be taking place to kill Kulaks, or land-owning peasants, in order to cease their property and exterminate them as a class within Russia. This order comes from the Marxist activists. Wanting to advocate for these peasants who are now under the real threat of death, Voschev brings the peasants to the foundation pit and insists that they wish to enlist as workers. The addition of new workers means the foundation pit will now need to be larger. In this action, Voschev does somehow merge the mandate to care for the collective with his own desire for his life to amount to more than only work.