From potato to proletariat, Hristo’s life was very much the socialist story of a “country boy done good.” He seems to have taken his proletarianization with at least a certain sense of pride, if only for the modernization that it symbolized. He made sure to attend party meetings, participate in discussions, and still today, under the bed in my mother’s room, are dozens of copies of the party magazine, Rabotnichesko Delo (“Workers’ Deed”), dating back to the 1970s. Into his last years, Hristo’s daily routine of reading the papers and watching the eight o’clock news was as consistent an event as any prescribed by the laws of causality. Perhaps he never articulated it in these exact words, but he had internalized the significance of class consciousness (a term Marx himself rarely used). He sought to be informed about the society he lived in, to understand his position in it, and with that, albeit to a lesser extent, to understand its history. A few times, he even made it to the public boards posted in the city center to celebrate the achievements of model workers, good Socialists.
He veered right with age, much like the rest of the country; the moment socialism ceased to offer the modernization it had glorified, he (much like the rest of the country) abandoned it. That is to say, precisely because he internalized the urban modernity that socialism preached, he had to abandon that ideology when modernity became NATO, the European Union, and consumerist market economics. His story is a remarkable one, albeit not in the post-Enlightenment individualistic storytelling way to which we are too often exposed and therefore eager to listen for, if not hear, regardless of the narrative at hand. His life and transitions matched the model path intended for all the recently urbanized Bulgarian masses by the state. To tell his story is thus to tell the story of many.
The block has a memory of its own, too. The signs of wear tell the story of its age, the quality of wood and metal tell the story of lack. But the memory of the block is more than pure materiality. The flickering light on the ceiling, protected by a newly installed cage to prevent theft, tells the story of the disappearance of trust between co-inhabitants. More broadly still is the memory of the idea, if not idealism, of this space as it was conceived: a home for the proletariat to communally coexist.
The layers of memories, traces, and experiences embedded in blocks — and therefore their centrality and significance to Socialist history — have not gone unnoticed in literature. It is no surprise that Andrei Platonov’s Foundation Pit (finished in 1930) presents the socialist dystopia of a disillusioned revolutionary through the story of workers restlessly digging a never-ending foundation pit. Their only glimmer of hope, the pit is more than that; it is the foundation pit for a Socialist Block. A single block to house all the proletariat of the nameless Soviet village becomes the workers’ only flicker of faith in utopian realization.