1917 rounds the corner of the Winter Palace wearing a broad smile. It’s a Thursday afternoon in early November, and he’s had a good beginning to the Revolution. Nicholas II abdicated, the Provisional Government toppled, and all power given to the soviets. A newly-released report says the Romanovs are under arrest – scheduled to be moved to the House of Special Purposes – and polls predict the Bolsheviks under Lenin will cruise to victory.
He picks up the phone in the foyer and asks the operator for America.
1917: Da! Amerika! Nyet! I am not imperialist dog! Connect me to Bill de Blasio or you will have lunch with Tsar’s family.
Operator: This is 1917 calling for Bill de Blasio.
Bill: Hey 17! We don’t talk at all, and it ain’t all good news here in New York. But first, did you get that Romanov problem settled?
1917: Da. I mean yes. They are in secure place. But enough about me, how is your revolution going?
Bill: It’s too bad I can’t arrest the Cuomo family, because the subway is crumbling and Andrew won’t do it my way. I have plenty of money and they can’t prove anything, but my public-approval rating is stuck at 50 percent. Homeless shelters are at capacity. I want to push my progressive agenda out past New York, but I have enemies. How did you manage to move beyond Petrograd?
1917: I had good field of vision on monarchy as anyone. I spent years studying in exile, but didn’t realize amazing changes until Germans let me back in. Those were much tougher times in city, but at least people had manners. Until I toppled entire system. Now speed of change is extraordinary. I can kill hundreds like I used to kill one or two. And communications technology! I can talk to you just like I talk to Lenin or Trotsky. We have expectations now, can address things in real time that would have been impossible in past. But also public dynamics. We are expected to have answer for something that comes up in middle of Bolshevik demonstration we incited! But I adjusted.
Bill: So you’re saying it’s better to be assertive, proactive?
1917: Da. I knew that coming in door. Early on, with many issues – unions, bourgeoisie, private property, political prisoners – I should have been … how is word? … more blunter about difficulty of problems and how long they take to solve.
Bill: I have a ten-year plan to close Rikers Island.
1917: Nyet! Assert! You know what happened to Obama and Gitmo. Close prison now. You gain loyalty of working families and peasants.
Bill: You mean the homeless? I have a five-year plan for that.
1917: Stop with plans! Five-year plans for later. Now you act for all-socialist government excluding bourgeoisie. Is propaganda in order? I suggest “Down with Capitalist Legislators” and “All Power to Boroughs.”
Bill: Yeeeeaaaahhh. “Boroughs” sounds too much like “bourgeoisie.” But we’ve already approved armed uprisings, and we’re acting on income inequality. I believe the millionaires tax is the best long-term plan.
1917: You don’t know income inequality. Here’s how you handle: Abolish capital punishment, issue decrees on Peace and Land, and let useful revolutionaries dispossess rich owners. Remember, execution is illegal, but with them gone you approve all-Bolshevik government with de Blasio as chairman.
Bill: Our legal system is structured to favor private property.
1917: That is core of problem. Glad you notice.
Bill: Okay, but I think people all over this city, of every background, would like to have the city government be able to determine which building goes where, how high it will be, who gets to live in it, what the rent will be.
1917: Da! Power is ultimate aphrodisiac. Multicultural beggars easier to please.
Bill: I wasn’t finished yet, and stop mixing your metaphors. I think there’s a socialistic impulse, which I hear every day, in every kind of community, that they would like things to be planned in accordance to their needs. And I would, too.
1917: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. You know your shit, Bill.
Bill: Stop interrupting. Unfortunately, what stands in the way of that is hundreds of years of history that have elevated property rights and wealth to the point that that’s the reality that calls the tune on a lot of development.
1917: What do you think 1917 Revolutions were for? Why do you think we kill entire family of Tsar?
Bill: Wait. You said …
1917: Yes, yes. I know. They are just not dead yet. You have Trump family. You have people in Party calling for assassination. You have armed uprisings and systematic web of disinformation. Act! And say they were murdered by left-wing reactionaries during evacuation.
Bill: Look, if I had my druthers, I would do it, and without tsarist kulaks like Trump the government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed. And there would be very stringent requirements around income levels and rents. That’s a world I’d love to see, and I think what we have, in this city at least, are people who would love to have the New Deal back, on one level. They’d love to have a very, very powerful government, including a federal government, involved in directly addressing their day-to-day reality. It’s not reachable right now. And it leaves this friction, and this anger, which is visceral. I try to explain the things we can do. It’s a little bit of a Serenity Prayer – let’s talk about the things we can fix.
1917: New Deal? Serenity Prayer? Bill. I call you. You ask advice. I give advice. You are unserious person. Either use domestic policy of 1917 or I want it back.
Bill: Now hold on a minute! The Democratic Party has “free speech zones.” We have Antifa. We have university students hunting down imperialist professors. We’re attacking Nazis and erasing history. We can punish people who don’t buy government healthcare, dammit! We have Bernie Sanders, for fuck’s sake! We just need a little more time!
Operator: I’m sorry. 1917 has left the call.
Editor’s note: The transcript of this secret national security discussion was first published in New York Magazine.