On the 7th of November Russia recognized(I don’t say celebrate because I don’t know that people were, in fact) the 90th Anniversary of the Mighty October Revolution(which would be considered the Mighty November Revolution according to our calendars). With all of the changes that are taking place in Russia today, and the threat of more political instability on the horizon, many Russians spent the day contemplating their “mighty” history. Lenin’s plans were mighty, but the system was not. Ask any aged Russian on the street Moscow about whether they prefer communist life or “democratic” life, and they will most likely shake their head in disgust and refer to the good ole days nostalgically. The west, at any given moment, has a plethora of bones to pick with communism, but do we give it enough credit for the good that it did do. The old people on the street seem to think that communist living was much better, they didn’t have to worry about tomorrow. And now, even though the 7th of November is supposed to be a day of celebration, many of these pensioners consider it a day of mourning for the promises of security that were never realized, a day when they question all that they knew to be mighty and sure. So I choose to humor these nostalgic communists on their holiday. Today we will try and think not of 90 years of oppression and corruption, but of development, work, and purpose.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of good things that communism did for the country is the educational system. I studied in Moscow for a year under teachers who were educated in pedagogy in the Brezhnev era. They took such pride in their work, they cared for their students, they spent extra time to make sure that the students were reaching their full potential. Students are celebrated and take their work very seriously. I can only imagine how much more invigorated with zeal and excitement students(pioneers, as they are called in Soviet times) must have been when they felt like their education was a mighty contribution to the mightiest of institutions, that they, themselves, could make old Uncle Lenin proud.
Учиться, учиться, а еще раз…учиться! –Ленин (русскому языку, чтобы это понять)
Lenin had hoped that communism would go on for much longer than just 90 years. In this declaration Lenin introduces the NEP, New Economic Policy, НЭП, Новый Экономический План, in it he identifies the three enemies of Communism, one of which, the new Communist educational system did a great job at eliminating:
“The Three Chief Enemies In my opinion, three chief enemies now confront one, irrespective of one’s departmental functions; these tasks confront the political educationalist, if he is a Communist—and most of the political educationalists are. The three chief enemies that confront him are the following: the first is communist conceit; the second—illiteracy, and the third—bribery.
A member of the Communist Party, who has not yet been combed out, and who imagines he can solve all his problems by issuing communist decrees, is guilty of communist conceit. That is only communist conceit. The point is to learn to impart political knowledge; but that we have not yet learnt; we have not yet learnt how to approach the subject properly.
-The Second Enemy—Illiteracy As regards the second enemy, illiteracy, I can say that so long as there is such a thing as illiteracy in our country it is too much to talk about political education. This is not a political problem; it is a condition without which it is useless talking about politics. An illiterate person stands outside politics, he must first learn his ABC. Without that there can be no politics; without that there are rumours, gossip, fairy-tales and prejudices, but not politics.
-The Third Enemy—Bribery Lastly, if such a thing as bribery is possible it is no use talking about politics. Here we have not even an approach to politics; here it is impossible to pursue politics, because all measures are left hanging in the air and produce absolutely no results. A law applied in conditions which permit of widespread bribery can only make things worse. “Delivered: 17 October, 1921; First Published: Published in the Vtoroi Vserossiishy syezd politprosvetov. Bulleten syezda (Bulletin of the Second All-Russia Congress of Political Education Departments) No. 2, October 19, 1921; Published according to the Bulletin proofs corrected by Lenin
Before the revolution approximately 25% of the population was illiterate. Lenin, being the son of a school inspector was particularly aware of this enemy in Russian society. He made it among his top priorities to educate the people. Communist doctrine and propaganda is useless to the people whose minds have not been elevated above an animal-like existence. In 1919 the Narkompros, issued a decree that all citizens between the ages of 7 and 50 were required to go to school, if they had not yet done so. So babushka and grandson would sit together in school learning to read. In addition, systems were set up so that factory workers (usually the most uneducated) could be good communist workers and still have time to get an education in a particular vocation(typically industrial and agricultural vocations). By 1939, according to the population census, the literacy rate had risen to 87.4%, and today even after the fall of communism, Russia’s literacy rate is near perfect at 99% and 40% of adults have finished higher education. (Unfortunately this number is decreasing because of the rising cost of education) * http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/russia_statistics.html
Today, you could stop any average person on the street, young or old, and all of them could recite a few lines of Pushkin’s poetry, or rattle off a line of square root numbers(I was going to give an example of what I mean, but I don’t really know how to do that part of math). Many of my Russian friends laughed to see the math that we do here on a university level, “Oh, we did this in 5th grade.”
See, the revolution was not in vain. And though many of its systems are now collapsing under the winds of change, the legacy of Lenin can live in on in our hearts. So in the days after a mighty revolution’s anniversary, if you find your self trying to make sense of all that came to be, rather than feeling despair at the course the mighty plan took, put your hand over your heart and sing a song from your days as a Komsomol:
Вместе с Комсомолом навсегда!
Музыка: Ю.Чичков Слова: М.Пляцковский
Мы глядим в грядущее уверенно,
В жизни цель – прекрасна и светла.
И недаром Родина доверила
Нам, ребята, важные дела.
И недаром Родина доверила-
Нам, ребята, важные дела.
We look to the future, certain,
Our goal in life is bright and beautiful.
Our motherland has not trustued us in vain
We’ve got important work to do, guys.
Галстук пионерский на груди,
Новые дороги впереди.
Для победы, счастья и труда,
Вместе с комсомолом – навсегда!
With our pioneer tie on our chest,
There are new roads ahead.
For vicory, happiness and work,
Pioneers and Komsomols FOREVER!
Ah, Lenin would be so proud.
Communism brought with it an abundance of these abbreviated and compounded words, they can somethimes be hard to find in a dictionary, but they’re kind of fun to know.
-Ликбез-ликвидация безграммотности, the campaign launched in 1920 to eliminate illiteracy.
-Наркомпрос-Народный комиссариат просвещения, People’s Commissarat for Enlightening or The branch of government in charge of Ликбез
-Комсомол-Коммунистический союз Молодежи, Communist Youth Group,kind of like scouts but more intense.
Колхоз-Коллективное хозяйство, communal farms
More of my blogs on Communism: