Posts tagged Komsomol

“The Big Red Schoolhouse” (Part IV)

The last of a four part series that I have enjoyed showing my reading audience simply because all the writing was already done for me by Irving R. Levine who died at age 86 last year.  He was well known as an NBC news reporter but much earlier in his career he had been in Russia back in the 1950s.  He was suspected of being a spy yet he did his job well as a journalist, not an agent. I appreciate his words documented in the book “Main Street USSR” because it applies to my setting in Astana, Kazakhstan.  See what you think of this last installment, I welcome comments by those of you who are teaching or have taught in Central Asia before in whatever capacity.

“Specialized training at an institute is one of the few roads to success in Russia. There are few other steps by which a young man or woman can climb the economic and prestige ladder. Unlike capitalistic countries, a young man with natural acumen does not have an opportunity to start a business on a shoestring and build it by effort and talent to a large chain of stores. A boy just out of secondary school cannot count on being taken into his father’s successful enterprise because father in Russia owns no enterprise. Membership in the Communist Party, itself the main portal to success in Russia, is open largely to those who have some special talent or skill to offer the state. Thus the number of applicants each year for the Soviet version of college far exceeds the space available, and competition is keen.

There are other reasons, too, for the crash of applicants. Family financial standing plays no role in the decision to continue education. It is not a question of being able to afford it. Tuition now is free. Also, the fact that good marks and scholarship are encouraged from childhood contributes to stimulating interest in higher education among youngsters. The smart boy or girl is seldom the butt of teasing as a teacher’s pet. There is no aversion to “eggheads’* at any age in Russia. Unlike American schools, where the star athlete is likely to be campus hero, students in Soviet institutes have less diversion of this sort. There are teams, but no program of intensely competitive contests among schools with cheerleaders and pre-game bonfires. School, whether grade school, high school, or college, is intended for study, and the emphasis is on high marks in the classroom rather than on a high score on the football field. Even so, occasionally there is newspaper criticism of over-emphasis of sports in some schools.

There is, nonetheless, a perennial problem of rearing Soviet youngsters in the mold of discipline and devotion to Communist aspirations sought by Kremlin authorities. There are frequent cases of student  misconduct, teen-age indolence, and outright hooliganism. Out-of-school influences are usually blamed by the authorities. For example, it is in the home that youngsters are taught religion; this influence is so great that in some villages, despite classroom instruction in atheism, the entire student body stays away from school on minor religious holidays. The decision was made to keep youngsters in school more, under proper Communist influence, and away from the home, the church, and the street. Boarding schools were introduced in 1956, and the plan, as sufficient school space becomes available, is eventually to make boarding schools universal where youngsters will sleep, returning home only on Sundays.

The beginning was modest; 285 boarding schools were opened in 1956, and the number is growing slowly. At first, in order to evoke as little parental resentment as possible, pupils were taken from orphanages, from broken homes, and from poor parents with large families.

The preference given to former workers and soldiers is in itself intended to encourage a serious attitude in student bodies. Infringements of student discipline during the early days of de-Stalinization gave fresh impetus to the program of encouraging would-be students to go to work first. So did the leading roles played by students in the October events in Hungary and Poland in 1956. It was felt by the Kremlin leadership that a person who had served three years in an army unit or two years plowing dry Siberian soil would better appreciate the opportunity offered by education to improve his station in life and would more willingly bend to ideological discipline.

Cases of breach of discipline were many, but in terms of student exuberance in other countries, the transgressions of Soviet students might seem mild indeed. Yet, seen in the Soviet context, they might well give rise to alarm in the leadership. There were instances of previously docile lecture groups in dialectic materialism, for example, being disrupted by brash students plying the instructor with questions intended to undermine Communist theses. There was a report of a Komsomol group at a Moscow institute refusing to elect a chairman presented on a single-name slate by the group’s governing committee.

There was the case of an unpopular Komsomol chairman being suspended out of a fourteenth-story window of the Moscow University skyscraper by a rope around his waist. Elsewhere this might pass as normal spring-fever conduct; in Moscow it is scandalous. There were persistent reports of expulsions.

Branches of student discipline were recorded in the pages of Dawn of the East newspaper in Tbilisi. An article on March 24, 1956, shortly after street disorders in which students played a prominent role, re- ported:

“At many meetings and conferences they often tell of students showing a lack of discipline, often cutting classes. The figures from September 1 until December 31 show that 94,083 man hours have been skipped without any excuses, among them in Marxism-Leninism (2682 man hours), in dialectic materialism (2231 man hours), and in political economics (1665 man hours).

“Sometimes lectures are skipped by whole groups, who instead go for a collective review of a new movie, leaving the teacher to lecture to a virtually empty auditorium. Especially “organized’ in this way are groups in the West European language and literature faculties. Unfortunately their record is closely followed by students in the faculty of physics. In the history faculty, A. Mkheidze and M. Dzimestarhishveli were so rarely seen at lectures that their fellow students could not have recognized them. Almost half of the students cut seminars in dialectical materialism. It sometimes happens that only one or two students from an entire group are present, and once the whole fifth group of the fourth year of the philological faculty cut their seminars.”

The paper told of expulsion of students for violating public order. “Can it be tolerated,” asked Dawn of the East, “that in 1955, for instance, there were 176 cases registered of students breaking rules of socialist order, and the 41 students were detained by the militia for a total of two and a half months?

“Some old prejudices of the area are recreated and some young people, such as a student in the geographic-geological faculty, N. Moudiry, revived the old custom of a runaway marriage. He sneaked away with a girl student from the biological faculty.”

Other cases of misconduct cited were less in the virile mountaineer tradition of this Caucasus region but equally reprehensible to the authorities, such as the student who beat up a taxi driver after a drunken spree and then struck a policeman who arrested him.

There are quips about students who misbehave or do poorly in classes. A Russian friend shook her head disapprovingly as she told about a neighbor’s none-too-bright child who was getting bad marks. “Well,” she shrugged, “maybe he’ll be able to get a job in the weather bureau if nowhere else.”

This rather light-hearted attitude is not shared by Soviet officialdom. Every opportunity is taken in publications, speeches, and edicts to impress upon young people the need for a serious attitude in studies and also in free-time pursuits. This may partly explain why Soviet youngsters spend so many free hours poring over chessboards instead of chatting on the telephone. The Soviet attitude of earnestness, seen in recreation as well as in study, has its roots in the Soviet classroom.”

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“The Big Red Schoolhouse” (Part III)

What is with this spy swap thing, the Russia’s 10 for our four? Are these four really Americans? I’m not sure that is an even exchange, someone needs to brush up on their math skills.  Or are we working on diplomacy skills instead?  In any event this is all an education about what went on during the Cold War period and seems all very ludicrous to me.   I wonder what Irving R. Levine would say about this because he was suspected of being a spy but was not.  I’ve been accused of it as well, a “spy” could mean that you know more than you are supposedly to know about a certain country.  All very strange.

The following quoted material is from Irving R. Levine’s book published in 1959 titled “Main Street USSR.” This particular chapter about education has real meaning to me as a westerner in the capital city of Kazakhstan.  If my blog readers are involved in some way in education in Central Asia, what happened 50 years ago streaming from Moscow is still relevant today.  I’d be interested in your comments about your observations.  For now enjoy what Levine wrote in his chapter “The Big Red Schoolhouse.”

“Russia’s largest institution of higher learning is Moscow State University. It is more properly called “Moscow State University in the name of Mikhail Vasilievich Lomonosov,” in the Soviet fashion of appending the name of an honored individual. Lomonosov was a Russian scientist and writer who died in 1765, after writing a history of Russia, a Russian grammar, and reforming the Russian literary language. Old buildings of the university are situated on Manege Square across from one segment of the Kremlin’s wall. In 1953 a thirty-two-story skyscraper was completed on a fast-growing edge of the city, known as Lenin Hills. The broad base of the edifice rises eighteen stories and only then begins tapering toward the tower which is crowned, as are most of Moscow’s nine skyscrapers, with a huge hammer and sickle.

It is a splendid building with roomy classrooms, laboratories, a large auditorium, and elevators that rise faster than most manufactured in the U.S.S.R. This is probably one of the few universities in the world where a guard stands at the entrance and admits only persons presenting identification cards as students or members of the faculty, lie enrollment is nearly 18,000 students in 12 faculties and there is a staff of 2000 professors.

Somewhat less imposing and more typical is the Uzbek State University dedicated to Alisher Navoyi, the founder of Tadzhik literature. A low, gray stone building on a tree-lined boulevard in Samarkand houses the administration building and some classrooms, its entrance graced by two silver-painted statues of young men, one in civilian clothes and the other in aviator’s garb. Two other three-story buildings comprise the university’s property besides several small dormitories scattered elsewhere in this ancient central Asian city.

The university was founded in 1927, seven years after the area, now known as the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan, was incorporated in the U.S.S.R. This was a region of illiteracy under the despotic rule of the Emir of Bukhara, who kept more than one hundred wives and concubines, whose word was law, and who devised such excruciating systems for torture as a twenty-one-foot deep pit of scorpions and other insects native to this desert region. Victims were lowered into the pit and left there to endure a horrible death. Whatever more refined forms of oppression the Communists devised for those who resisted their rule in Central Asia, they also established universities, and more than a third of Uzbek state’s teachers are Russians even now.

There are four faculties. Physics and mathematics comprise one faculty. The philological faculty consists of departments of Uzbek, Tadzhik, and Russian literature and language as well as a foreign language department where English is taught. The third faculty is for biology and geography. Finally, there is a faculty of historical studies.

Day classes in these four faculties are attended by 7200 students. There are 1900 in night classes, and 3800 adults take courses at the university. Uzbeks and Tadzhiks, the native peoples of dark skin and oriental features in this vast region bordering on China, Afghanistan, and Iran, comprise 70 per cent of the student body. There are 28 nationalities attending the university. The Rector, an Uzbek, received me in his office, and with members of the faculty we sat at a red-baize-covered table placed at right angles to his desk. It was a typically furnished Soviet office with a portrait each of Lenin and Stalin on the wall across from a painting of the Tadzhik literary hero, Navoyi, seated cross-legged on a rug, dressed in a red native robe and a turban. Except for that touch it might well have been an office in Moscow rather than in Samarkand, one of the oldest cities of the world, the proud prize of conquest of Ghengis Khan and Alexander the Great and Tamerlane. The Rector a short, dark man in his fifties, spoke intently and devotedly of his university.

As in lower grades in Central Asian schools where there are separate schools for instruction in Russian, in Uzbek (a language of Turkish root), and in Tadzhik (of Persian origin), so there are classes in each faculty in each of the three languages.

The university has 36 laboratories, three scientific museums, a library of 600,000 volumes, and a teaching staff of 300. In the first thirty years of the university’s existence 5500 students have graduated. With pride, the Rector said that about 50 of these had gone on to achieve doctorates and professorships.

Now freshman classes consist of 450 students, but in the early years of the university there were only 60 admitted each year, which accounts for the relatively small number of graduates in more than a quarter of a century. Women comprise more than a third of the student body. In a recent freshman class of 450, women accounted for 148. An increasing number of applicants admitted each year are demobilized soldiers and young people who had worked for two years after completion of ten-year primary and secondary school. Of the freshman class of 450, 26 were discharged soldiers and 92 had worked for two years. Refresher courses are offered nights for workers who intend to apply for admission, and the armed forces have similar courses. The Rector was vague about the exact point handicap enjoyed in entrance exams by the preferred soldiers and workers. The impression was that it is rather flexible, and that every benefit of the doubt is given to former servicemen and workers, regardless of their entrance-exam marks, if It is felt that they can cope with the course of study.

“If a score of 20 points on the entrance exam is needed to enter the University,” explained the Rector, “a man who has worked for two years may enter with only 18 or 19 points. It varies with the competition and with the particular faculty as well as with the number and quality of applicants in any year.”

Students who maintain at least a three average receive an allowance from the state known as a “stipend.” The amount of the stipend varies with the students’ marks and increases with each year of a student’s course. Roughly it runs from 300 to 700 rubles ($30 to $70) a month.  An excellent (all fives) student in the freshman year would receive 360 rubles ($36) a month, and in Ms final year the student, maintaining his high marks, would get 700 rubles monthly. (In the case of a student whose parents’ income is less than 500 rubles or $50 a month he would receive a minimum stipend, even if his average was less than three. )

All books required for courses are available in the university library, but a student may wish to use part of his stipend to purchase his own. Books are reasonably priced and seldom more than 15 rubles ($1.50) a copy. Students who live at home usually use their stipends as spending money for clothes, movies, theater, newspapers, and occasional meals eaten out.

It’s possible for a thrifty student living at home actually to save something each month from his stipend. The 1400 students who live in the university’s three dormitories, or hostels as they are called, pay 15 rubles ($1.50) monthly for their crowded quarters.

The starting salary of a first year instructor is 2000 rubles ($200)a month and increases to 2500 rubles($250) by the fifth year. Two hundred and twenty members of the teaching, technical, and maintenance staff of the university are members of the school’s unit of the Communist Party, the largest Party unit in Samarkand. Eighty members of the unit are students, and 90 per cent of the rest of the student body are members of the Komsomol, the Young Communist League. The dominant role played by Russians in the control and management of the Central Asian Soviet Republics is reflected in the fact that one third of the members of the university’s Party unit are Russians.

Like other Soviet educational institutions, the Uzbek State University sets a rigorous course of study for its student body. Classes are held six days a week, six hours a day, for all faculties. Of this, two hours a week is spent in the study of Marxism-Leninism, ideological training in the principles of Communist doctrine.

There were 180 students studying English at Uzbek State when I was there in 1958. They were divided into ten groups five Uzbek-speaking groups and five Russian-speaking. Freshmen majoring in English spend half of the thirty-six hours per week of classes in English courses. After the freshman year the number of hours increases. Lea Rosett, a serene-faced Russian woman with graying brown hair pulled back in a bun, is head of the English department. She had never been abroad and has few opportunities to converse with English-speaking people. She was delighted with the opportunity to practice on me. She spoke slowly, as if to make absolutely sure that she used the proper tense of the verb, but her pronunciation was good and her vocabulary versatile. Mrs. Rosett had received her degree at the Leningrad Pedagogical Institute and had worked for two years in the 1930s as an Intourist guide, showing American and British tourists around the former Russian capital. When war broke out in 1941 she and her family were evacuated to Samarkand. Her husband is a professor in the university’s Mathematics Department. They have a twelve-year old son who attends a Russian language school and is already well advanced in English, says his mother.

It was obvious after a brief conversation with her, that this woman of wide cultural interests and tastes found life in provincial, backwater Samarkand drab and limited. She insisted that they were free to leave any time they wished, but whenever the question came up her husband was called in by the Rector and other university administrators and told how valued his services were in Samarkand and how badly he was needed. Mrs. Rosett explained that many honors and awards had been bestowed upon him, “and he feels a responsibility to remain here.” Members of the faculty are provided with small houses, better living conditions than they might find elsewhere, and this also serves as an inducement for remaining.

Three women, teachers on Mrs. Rosett’s staff, said that I was the first English-speaking person they had ever met and talked with. To compensate for the disadvantage in trying to teach a language they rarely heard spoken, the teachers hold a weekly conversation circle in order to practice English among themselves. The English Department has a speech laboratory with tape-recording machines to enable students to listen to themselves, but, lamented Mrs. Rosett, there was not a single copy of a large Webster’s dictionary in all of Samarkand.

Specialized training at an institute is one of the few roads to success in Russia. There are few other steps by which a young man or woman can climb the economic and prestige ladder. Unlike capitalistic countries, a young man with natural acumen does not have an opportunity to start a business on a shoestring and build it by effort and talent to a large chain of stores. A boy just out of secondary school cannot count on being taken into his father’s successful enterprise because father in Russia owns no enterprise. Membership in the Communist Party, itself the main portal to success in Russia, is open largely to those who have some special talent or skill to offer the state. Thus the number of applicants each year for the Soviet version of college far exceeds the space available, and competition is keen.

There are other reasons, too, for the crash of applicants. Family financial standing plays no role in the decision to continue education. It is not a question of being able to afford it. Tuition now is free. Also, the fact that good marks and scholarship are encouraged from childhood contributes to stimulating interest in higher education among youngsters. The smart boy or girl is seldom the butt of teasing as a teacher’s pet. There is no aversion to “eggheads’* at any age in Russia. Unlike American schools, where the star athlete is likely to be campus hero, students in Soviet institutes have less diversion of this sort. There are teams, but no program of intensely competitive contests among schools with cheerleaders and pre-game bonfires. School, whether grade school, high school, or college, is intended for study, and the emphasis is on high marks in the classroom rather than on a high score on the football field. Even so, occasionally there is newspaper criticism of over-emphasis of sports in some schools.”

(to be continued)

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“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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K.U.’s Grandfather Survived “Golodomor” Hunger

I would like to write a life – story about my grandfather. He was 44 when he died, I think his life was intensive and it would be enough for two or even more people, but let’s start from the beginning.

My grandfather’s name is Kazhigali, he was born in 1919, in the village Sholay near Kokchetav. He lived in a very difficult time, it was a time of hunger “golodomor”. His parents died when he was only 7 years old and he began to live with his sister. But after a couple of years his sister hadn’t enough money and food for feeding him and boy went to the orphan house.

Kazhigali began to work very early, when he was 13 he worked in printing office, later he worked in Kokchetav district – committee of Komsomol. In 1939 he graduated a Pedagogical college of Kokchetav. In the same year he applied to the military – artillery college in Leningrad and Zenith Military College in Sevostopol, and chose the last one, after two years of study, he graduated in 1941. After graduation, he worked in Moscow like a military – guard during four months and then he started to work in c. Kushka, the Republic of Turkmenistan.

As you know in that period of time began a war and my grandfather was enlisted in Zenith – Military army of the South front as a lieutenant. He was at war from the first days till to the end. I really don’t know about his experience of the war, of course I read his diary, but he never wrote about the horror of that war. I can only summarize results of the war for himself. Kazhigali was wounded four times, he received a lot orders and medals, among them: two orders of patriotic war 1, 2 degree; two orders of red star; medals for liberation Vena, Praga, Budapest and others and of course he had a new rank – Captain.

Kazhigali came back home in 1946. Starting from 1947 he worked in Committee of the State Security in Kokchetav. In this period of his life he met my grandmother – Damela. She was very young girl, she only just graduated from university and worked in the school as a teacher of the history. They married in 1949 and had three children, but that was later.

After their wedding, Kazhigali had an opportunity to study in the Moscow School of Committee of the State Security, of course he used this chance and during the next 5 years he was in the school. In 1955 he graduated school and had a lieutenant colonel rank. After his graduation from 1955 till 1960 he worked in the Ministry of the State Security like a chief of two departments. But starting from 1960 he was ill because of his war’s wounds and after 4 years he died.

My grandfather died many years before I was born, and it’s very pity that I haven’t even seen him. I know about him only from my grandmother’s words she says he was very kind, clever and brave man and I believe her.

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