When they first worked together, Fetyukov had tried throwing his weight around and shouting at the captain. But the captain had smacked him in the teeth, and they called it quits.

Some of the men were sidling up to the stove with the sand on it, hoping for warmth, but the foreman warned them off.

“I’ll warm one or two of you with my fist in a minute! Get the place fixed up first!”

One look at the whip is enough for a beaten dog! The cold was fierce, but the foreman was fiercer. The men went back to their jobs.

Shukov heard the foreman speak quietly to Pavlo: “You hang on here and keep a tight hold on things. I’ve got to go and see about the percentages.”

More depends on the percentages than the work itself. A foreman with any brains concentrates more on the percentages than on the work. It’s the percentage that feeds us. Make it look as if the work’s done, whether it is or not. If the rate for the job is low, wangle things so that it turns out higher. That’s what a foreman needs a big brain for. And an understanding with the norm setters. The norm setters have their hands out, too.

Just think, though - who benefits from all this overfulfillment of norms? The camp does. The camp rakes in thousands extra from a building job and awards prizes to its lieutenants. To Volkovoy, say, for that whip of his. All you’ll get is an extra two hundred grams of bread in the evening. But your life can depend on those two hundred grams. Two-hundred-gram portions built the Belomor Canal.

Two buckets of water had been brought in, but they’d iced over on the way. Pavlo decided that there was no point in fetching any more. Quicker to melt snow on the spot. They stood the buckets on the stove.

Gopchik, who had pinched some new aluminum wire, the sort electricians use, had something to say: “Hey, Ivan Denisovich! Here’s some good wire for spoons. Will you show me how to mold one?”

Ivan Denisovich was fond of Gopchik, the rascal (his own son had died when he was little, and he had two grownup daughters at home). Gopchik had been jailed for taking milk to Ukrainian guerrillas hiding in the forest. They’d given him a grownup’s sentence. He fussed around the prisoners like a sloppy little calf. But he was crafty enough: kept his parcels to himself. You sometimes heard him munching in the middle of the night.

Well, there wouldn’t have been enough to go around.

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, translation H.T. Willetts October 1, 2008
Posted on October 1, 2008