Abernathy, Robert – “Heirs Apparent” (1954)
A brief time after the War finally destroys the world, the last capitalist and the last communist have a showdown. Bogomazov, (who is, unlike the Russian in “One Thousand Miles Up,” a Party member) stumbles onto a small rural village in Russia and is horrified to find that it’s being led by an American GI who, at the moment he is introduced, is literally beating a gun mount into a plowshare. His name is Leroy Smith, and irony of his last name and his new profession is noted (a similar pun on Smith/blacksmith having been made in Bill Brown’s goofy “The Star Ducks” of 1950, which, by the by, is inexplicably far and away the most popular post on this blog). Smith doesn’t care about reviving the war, supposing that nothing is left of either American or the Communist Party, but Bogomazov is less interested in starting anew, and has him arrested.
“You capitalists made your fundamental mistake through vulgar materialism. You thought you could destroy Communism by destroying the capital, the wealth and industry and military power we had built up as a base in the Soviet Union. You didn’t realize that our real capital was always-ourselves, the Communists. That’s why we will inherit the earth, now that your war has shattered the old world!”
The problem quickly arises: Smith, because of the “chaotic capitalistic labor market” is the only one with the knowhow to take care of most of the village’s problems, and so Bogomazov has to let him live. Smith, in turn, acknowledges that he couldn’t have accomplished what Bogomazov has: “redistributing the housing space and cooking up a system of rationing to take the village through the winter.”
They differ over the issue of guns, though, with the Russian choosing to confiscate and lock them up, while the American advocates for 2nd Amendment rights. When a horde of bandits threaten the village and they realize that the peasants had already secretly stolen back all the firearms, this allows him to quip “Apparently the Soviet Constitution has been amended.” They also disagree over the long-term plans for their group: Smith wants to leave the Russian plains to the emerging nomadic bandits and settle in the mountains of Italy, while Bogomazov refuses to abandon the motherland.
This is, at heart, a meditation on the cyclical nature of history/civilization, so parallels are drawn not only with the American West, but with the Romans and the Huns and Civilization versus Nomadism at large. The American and the Communist are the last partisans of Civilization left, it seems – even their village subordinates never really understood the comings and goings of cities and liberalism and collectivism, and are back to a world that they understand. The bandits, meanwhile, armed with a “bizarre mixture of modern and primitive armament,” insist that settlements will attract American bombs and radiation – and so they take what they want, disperse the population, and burn it down. Bogomazov refuses to see that his way of life has lost, and is cut down by the barbarian leader. Smith heads to Europe, wondering how long it will take for civilization to re-assert itself.
Just so we are clear on the message, the story ends by noting that “In the West the light faded, and night fell with the darkness sweeping on illimitable wings out of Asia.”