Sometime around 1968 the literary scholar Rimma Kolesnikova discovered the long-lost manuscript of Vladimir Zazubrin’s Shchepka (The Chip), originally typed up in 1923. Repeatedly rejected for publication in Zazubrin’s lifetime, it was not until Perestroika that it first appeared in print. The Chip is possibly the most searching and searing literary exploration of the violence of the early Soviet state, an astonishingly haunting little story that, like its author, is now largely unknown. A Dostoyevskian-inspired exploration of the mind of Andrei Srubov, a fictional provincial Cheka boss in the Civil War who oversees nightly executions, the novella traces Srubov’s descent into madness.
Insofar as rejection delimits the permissible, this paper examines what Chip can tell us about the intellectual borders of the NEP era as well as violence in the early Soviet imaginary. Three interrelated themes will be explored: the interplay of belief and doubt; the fate of the individual and individual agency relative to the macrohistorical; and the imprint of violence upon socialist construction. Zazubrin’s text will be analysed alongside Soviet literary criticism in the early-mid 1920s to delineate the point(s) at which Chip transgressed. The key to the fate of Chip, I argue, is what it signifies about doubt in relation to faith in the socialist future.