“The Whisperers” (Part II)

Here’s a continuation of yesterday’s blog about Orlando Figes’ book titled “The Whisperers.”  I love some of his quotes because whatever he uncovered from his research about Russian families is even more true about Kazakh families.

p. 1 “In these circles, where every Bolshevik was expected to subordinate his personal interests to the common cause, it was considered ‘philistine’ to think about one’s personal life at a time when the Party was engaged in the decisive struggle for the liberation of humanity.”

p. 3-4 “In their utopian vision the revolutionary activist was the prototype of a new kind of human being – a ‘collective personality’ living only for the common good – who would populate the future Communist society.”

p. 4 “According to the Bolsheviks, the idea of ‘private life’ as separate from the realm of politics was nonsensical, for politics affected everything; there was nothing in a person’s so-call ‘private life’ that was not political. The personal sphere should thus be subject to public supervision and control.”

p. 8 “As the Bolsheviks saw it, the family was the biggest obstacle to the socialization of children.  ‘By loving a child, the family turns him into a egotistical being, encouraging him to see himself as the centre of the universe.’ Wrote the Soviet educational thinker Zlata Lilina.

p. 14-15 The Bolshevik idealists of the 1920s made a cult of this Spartan way of life.  They inherited a strong element of asceticism from the revolutionary underground, the source of their values and their principles in the early years of the Soviet regime.  The rejection of material possessions was central to the culture and ideology of the Russian socialist intelligentsia…in the Bolshevik aesthetic it was philistine to lavish attention on the decoration of one’s home.”

p. 20 “…to inculcate in them the public values of a Communist society. ‘The young person should be taught to think in terms of “we” and all private interests should be left behind.” Anatoly Lunacharsky, the Commissar for Education, 1918

Political indoctrination was geared towards producing activists.  The propaganda image of the ideal child was a precocious political orator mouthing agitprop.

p. 22 “A pioneer of Soviet pedagogical theories and a close associate of Krupskaia in her educational work…her theories were derived largely from the ideas of Pyotr Lesgaft.

p. 24 schoolfriend’s comradeship – “we had no need for calculated strategies or conspiracies, we lived according to an unwritten code: the only thing that mattered was loyalty to our comrades.

p. 25 oath learned by heart “I, a Young Pioneer of the Soviet Union, before my comrades do solemnly swear to be true to the precepts of Lenin, to stand firmly for the cause of our Communist Party and for the cause of Communism.”

p. 27 “According to the psychologist and educational theorist A.B. Zalkind, the Party’s leading spokesman on the social conditioning of the personality, the aim of the Pioneer movement was to train ‘revolutionary-Communist fighters fully freed from the class poisons of bourgeois ideology.”

Subbotniki = voluntary work which was really Saturday labor campaigns, not just days but weeks were set aside when the population would be called upon to work without pay.

p. 29 “Members of the Komsomol were supposed to put their loyalty to the Revolution above their loyalty to the family…it provided volunteers for Party work as well as spies and informers ready to denounce corruption and abuse….members were charged with exposing ‘class enemies’ among parents and teachers and as if in training for the job, took part in mock trials of ‘counter-revolutionaries’ in schools and colleges.

p. 30 ‘abolish individualism’ in moral terms too, they were absolutists, struggling to break free of the old conventions…Those who showed off or complained were called rotten intellectuals. “Rotten intellectuals’ was one of the most insulting labels.  Only “self-seeker” was worse.”

p. 32 However, the children of Party members had a well-developed sense of entitlement.

p. 33 “Whatever the case, Communist morality left no room for the Western notion of the conscience as a private dialogue with the inner self.  The Russian word for “conscience” in this sense (sovest) almost disappeared from official use after 1917.  It was replaced by the word soznatel’nost’ which carries the idea of consciousness or the capacity to reach a higher moral judgement and understanding of the world.  In Bolshevik discourse soznatel’nost’ signified the attainment of a higher moral-revolutionary logic, that is, Marxist-Leninist ideology.

p. 37 “Everything in the Party member’s private life was social and political; everything he did had a direct impact on the Party’s interests…Yet in reality this mutual surveillance did just the opposite: it encouraged people to present themselves as conforming to Soviet ideals whilst concealing their true selves in a secret private sphere.  Such dissimulation would become widespread in the Soviet system, which demanded the display of loyalty and punished the expression of dissent.  During the terror of the 1930s, when secrecy and deception became necessary survival strategies for almost everyone in the Soviet Union, a whole new type of personality and society arose. But this double-life was already a reality for large sections of the population in the 1920s

p. 41 “For the older generation the situation posed a moral dilemma; on the one hand, they wanted to pass down family traditions and beliefs to their children; on the other, they had to bring them up as Soviet citizens.”

In the words of the poet Vladimir Kornilov “it seemed that in our years there were no mothers, There were only grandmothers.

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