Posts tagged Marx

Unwritten Places (Part IV and final)

I know from my studies of the Ukrainian terror famine (Holodomor) that Eleanor Roosevelt was concerned about those people who were trapped in the “displaced persons” camps after WWII was over.  One of the Ukrainians I had interviewed who had survived the famine in 1932-33 as a small child, referred to Roosevelt as saying something to the effect, “if these people in DP camps don’t want to return to their motherland (as Stalin insisted they  MUST) then they should not have to go back.” Many knew upon return to Ukraine, it was either sure death or being sent off to a gulag for having ended up in Germany. Thus, many displaced persons were brought to freedom in the U.S., sadly many others were not.

Unfortunately, 16 women in Vilenksy’s book who survived prison life in the former Soviet Union want their tales to be known and remembered. This is my last installment of what I read from “Till My Tale is Told.” It has been “ghastly” to read what they went through for simply being labeled enemies of the Soviet state.

Perhaps if I looked at some of these films or read the following books, I would get a better sense of what Russian or Soviet life looked like just by reading the titles off the index of Vilensky’s book:

Captive Earth – film

Days of the Rubins (Bulgakov)

The Drowned and the Saved (Levi)

Exploits of a Secret Service Agent (film)

Flow, Swift Volga! (Vesyoly)

The Idiot (Dostoyevsky)

How the Steel was Tempered (Ostrovsky)

In the Abyss (Honret)

Kolyma Tales (Shalamov)

Into the Whirlwind (Yevengiya Ginzburg) – appeared in the West long ago

p. 292 – Bratsk – “Kazbek” cigarettes were expensive (Kazakhstan + Uzbekistan tobacco?)

p. 295 – Karakalpakia in Central Asia

p. 306 – five years exile in Kokchetavsk region in KZ

p. 320 – Stolypin wagons – tsarist minister in charge of putting down the 1905 revolution

p. 327 – “I could gaze very minute through the window

Forgetting all hunger and pain

But all things that I see there

Are twice scored by heavy, black lines

The trees and the sunset above them

The fields and paths cutting through

Crossed out by rusting metal

My life scored by black in on bars.”

By Vera Shulz (this was written @ 1938)

p. 167 – After receiving my sentence – five years exile in Kazakhstan as a “socially dangerous element”

“…I learned from bitter experience the wisdom of Marx’s words that knowing a foreign language is a weapon in the struggle for existence.”

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What else I learn from my adult learner students

The other day was a potpourri of various talents who showed up for English practice that is meant for advanced speakers once a week.  Some of these university employees were more shy to speak up once the talkative ones found their stride.  Represented were those from Center for Energy Research, Economics, Admissions, Legal department, Strategic planning and the Library.  We got on the topic of occupations as a kind of carry-over from the week before when we discussed teachers and builders.

The conversation went all over the place from talking about Kazakhstan’s sports like boxing, football and hockey to the recent Asian Winter games to Tour de France, to Roza Bagnalova’s son to the profession of policemen to the upcoming presidential election.  Finally an hour was up and we were talking about Olympics and the Goodwill Ambassador Vladimir Smirnoff who represented Kazakhstan.

One of them asserted that the most popular professions in Kazakhstan are lawyers and economists, especially looking at what students are majoring in for their subjects at university.  Others didn’t agree so we quickly moved into sports.  Apparently the most famous footballer is Pele whose name means “useless” or perhaps “crafty.”  We talked a long time about his name and how his name means smart but doesn’t let on that he is, like in Russian (heat-tree.) I can’t tell from my notes because I had to write fast with six people all having an opinion about this athlete.  Supposedly he was quoted as saying that if Russia wins the World Cup, then Brazil will have a hockey team in hell.  Something like that, like I said, my notes after trying to decipher them 24 hours later leave much to guess work.

This I DO know they talked about and was new information for me, that the Klitschko brothers who are so famous in Ukraine for their boxing feats were actually born in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. Their father was a military man and it is said as a kind of joke, I’m not sure if this actually happened.  One of the Klitschko brothers ran into Sasha Cohen in New York City, who made that despicable movie about Kazakhstan (which really wasn’t true to Kazakhstan and was filmed in Romania).  Anyway, since Klitschko is really a Kazakhstani, he had some strong words for Cohen and it put the fear into him.  You don’t want to mess with a boxer if you get him riled. Maybe this was just a joke but the point is, that the film has done little to bring good repute to Kazakhstan.

One thing that was supposed to bring Kazakhstan’s reputation up a notch or two was the Tour de France that was won by a Spaniard Cantador while he was biking for Team Astana last year.  We shall see who will rise from the Kazakh athletes to take over in cycling.  A nice stadium that was built just down the road from the university for the ice skating for the Asian games is really for cycle races.  It looks like a bike helmet from the outside.

We moved on to what all Kazakh people know internally but is little known in the western world about Roza Baglanova who died just last week.  She was a much loved singer and represented Kazakhstan in the former Soviet Union.  Apparently one of my adult learner “students” went to school with her son Tarzhen.  When he was born his grandparents went to register him with a good Kazakh name but when the father found out about it, he was furious and had it changed to a good communist name, Tarzhen. I’m unsure of the meaning but it sounds like Tarzan to me.  Apparently Tarzhen didn’t follow in his mother’s footsteps in music but his father’s as a businessman.  He is entrepreneur and his quiet and keeps to himself, a good father of 3-4 children.

Then we got into the subject of names of Kazakh children and what it was like in the past if you wanted to appear politically correct.  I mentioned that during the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s many young girls were called “Hong” for Red.  Someone said it was true in the USSR’s past that many had the names related to Lenin or Marx.  One poor lad was named after Albert Gore after he visited Kazakhstan.  With the Asian games now over, some girls are called Aizada (Asia) or boys might be called “Summit” after the OSCE summit last December. Or parents might use the word “Khan” or “Bai” or Abai going back to ancient times.  Some babies are given the name of the day of the week that they were born.  This has deep Kazakh roots to give names that honor an event.  Being BORN is an event here in Kazakhstan!

Somehow our conversation was directed back to occupations and several of these Kazakh people drive cars, so we talked about policemen.  After a Kazakh driver is stopped by a man with a white and black baton, the requisite forms are filled out. Some said they never pay a fine and talk their way out off whatever ticket.  Others who are in a hurry will pay the bribe just to get back on the road again.  You see, if you don’t want to go through all the steps of going to the bank and the police office to get the necessary paperwork down, you can give 1,000 or 2,000 tenge to the officer. However, this is NOT usually done directly, it might be slipped into a book or it might be left in the back seat of the squad car.

If you were to pay directly and officially with all the extra time spent to do it, it would cost about 6,500 tenge.  In the capital city of Astana it is not as bad to pay bribes to police officers as down in the south of Kazakhstan, like in Almaty. Perhaps this doesn’t happen in Astana because the police are more tightly controlled or they have other more important functions to deal with such as security for the president and other VIPs.  Maybe they are better paid than those officers to the south.

We talked of other things of course, such as the football match with Tartastan where the Dutch played in Moscow and the temps were -20 C and they played in the cold and mud with a score of 2-0.  Better than the score during the Asian games where a hockey match was 30-0. That would have been no fun to watch but one of my “students” witnessed that lopsided game.  Others saw the same ice skaters I did and we all talked about the opening ceremony.  I was surprised that one Kazakh woman didn’t even watch the Asian Games Opening ceremony on her t.v. I think she is too busy with her job and raising a family.

That’s it, from Lake Kaz-be-gone.

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“Till My Tale is Told” – Part IV – “Officially Enforced Amnesia”

“A reluctance to speak out, personal reticence, public disbelief and indifference – were compounded by an officially enforced amnesia that for decades continued to deny and ignore the individual and collective trauma, suffered by millions.  With little hope of ever living to see publication, it required stubborn persistence to record and preserve these testimonies.”  from Simeon Vilensky’s as editor of “Till my Tale is Told” published by Indiana University Press, 1999

I can’t get over how people are turned off by history, this is a subject of immense importance to inform the present and the future decisions for any country.  Then again, I’ve presented papers at history conferences and I try to tune in to the white haired academicians who are boring to listen to and I can understand the dilemma. Yes, history can be made boring by boring men and women who don’t care about the facts or about truth!!!  These “learned men” read straight from their notes and if they insert a phrase “Marx wrote…” or “Marx believed…” then that scores BIG points among those in the elites of any given university history departments.  What amazes me is that it is like the Chinese saying, “Confucius said…” I say, who CARES WHAT MARX thought?  I care about what other people thought, wrote and said.   Those victims of Soviet Marxist thought will continue to remain nameless because of the diabolical agenda enforced against Kazakhstan and other countries suffer a collective amnesia about the tragedies that happened during the Soviet period.

Here’s another poem from the book “Till My Tale is Told”  written by one of the Soviet victims Anna Barkova which was translated from Russian to English:

He lived in a cold back garret

In Judea, in ancient Greece.

“I shall borrow the warmth of a lamb’s breath,

Warm my blood with a match’s heat.”

He gazed at the constellations,

Was a beggar, sang hymns to life;

Who murdered Osip, * life’s lover,

Yet chose to leave me alive?

With all my heart I curse life,

But just as intently hate death.

Who knows for what I am searching,

Who knows for what reason I battle on?

No doubt on the Day of Judgement

I shall laugh to myself in contempt

When I hear the seraphs talk nonsense,

And see that their harpstrings are frayed.

The refuse of denunciation

Has seen sifted by God himself,

And the acting Procurator

Is the Master and Chief of the Devils.

22 January 1976 * The poet Osip Mandelstam, who died in the Vladivostok transit camp in 1938.

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Animal Farm Literacy: Achievement and Pretense

When I lived and taught English in communist Red China in the late 1980s I had heard of the ironic motto “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” This facetious slogan for the masses goes along with the “iron rice bowl” policy I wrote about a week ago.  I heard at a Kurbanait holiday supper last night a variation of this care-worn slogan again, “We pretend to teach while our students pretend to learn.”  I hope that more than just pretense happened in my classroom this past semester.  Some of my students achieved great things, they wrote inspiring words in English, their second or third language. I’m very proud of them. The following is what C.S. Lewis wrote about pretense:

 

There are two kinds of pretending.  There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you.  But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing.  When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are.  And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were.  Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.  Mere Christianity, Book IV, Ch. 7.

 

Yesterday I finished the book Animal Farm, it is a short little “fairy tale” which takes an hour or so to read.  Then I looked up what the allegory was for all of George Orwell’s farmyard characters.  The following is what is commonly known, I had guessed right on the pigs  

Napoleon = Stalin and Snowball = Trotsky. 

Squealer the pig = Molotov and the Soviet paper Pravda

Major, the boar = Marx (Lenin?)

Minimus the pig = Gorky

Farmer Jones = Russian tsar

Frederick, the neighboring farmer, owner of Pinchfield = Hitler

Mr. Pilkington, the other feuding farmer = U.S. and U.K.

Battle of the Windmill = WWII

Mr. Whymper = George Bernard Shaw (I had thought he might have represented Walter Duranty)

Hens = kulaks who destroyed their eggs like the farmers who destroyed their produce

Sheep = masses

Moses the Raven = Russian Orthodox religion

Horn and hoof green flag = hammer and sickle

Boxer, the hard working horse = the proletariat

Mollie = bourgeoisie or nobility, the Russian diaspora

Benjamin, the donkey = the author, George Orwell

 

Writing can be a powerful thing if the meanings of words come across successfully to your reading audience.  The pen IS mightier than the sword and I hope my Kazakh students catch the essence of writing down their thoughts as often as possible so that what is documented can be looked back on in the future.  Practice makes perfect and their writing can eventually stir others to action for the betterment of this great country of Kazakhstan. 

 

The story of Animal Farm showed that those animals (the pigs and dogs) who could write the Seven Commandments on the side of the barn had power over those animals who remained illiterate.  In fact, those who wrote had power to change the meaning of the laws by adding just a few words to the end of each law in order to twist the commandment to their advantage.  Our memories are also important to remember the original truths.  My students have better memories at their young age than us older folks. Institutional memory is important to have in order to counter the lies and pretense that harms rather than helps.

 

We, as older veteran teachers, have the experience like the donkey Benjamin, to outlive the pretense and charades that went on during the former Soviet Union.  It is an achievement that the Animal Farm in real life was demolished 18 years ago but there are still remnants of the old thinking that is residual in our institution of higher learning.  What will it take to have a REAL education to change society?  Perhaps when teachers stop pretending to teach and REALLY teach and have a classroom full of students who REALLY want to learn.  That would be an achievement in any country, not just in Kazakhstan!  I think it happened in my classroom, I am hopeful and optimistic for Kazakhstan’s future.

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Encounters with Soviet People (Part II)

Perhaps some of my readers may think it odd to write about Soviet people when the Soviet Union was dissolved 17-18 years ago but the Soviet mentality still exists.  I know, because I will be teaching English this fall semester once again in Almaty, Kazakhstan at a “westernized” university. The following quotes I typed up ring true even today in Kazakhstan.  My guest writer, Frank R. Thoms, for this series on “Encounters with Soviet People” was maybe a Fulbright Scholar for several months in Alma Ata (as it was known back during Soviet times).  I have never met this writer but appreciate his unpublished document he left behind with my friend Tatyana about his experiences in secondary schools, specialized schools of English in Almaty.  Maybe some of my Kazakhstani teaching colleagues knew of Frank R. Thoms.  I would love to meet Zoya of whom he writes about.

p. 99 – “It was not many years ago, however, when the evaluation of Soviet teachers was based on the performance of their students.  Though this practice has been abolished, its residue remained.  National Teachers Day aside, teachers do not receive much respect from students or parents.”

 

p. 108 – “I preferred to teach from the curriculum, to mingle with the texts of their lives, their daily fare, rather than to use my own material.  It was enough difference that I was an American.  Though I enjoyed addressing larger groups, I preferred the classroom where I could mix with the students and their textbooks.  Somehow I felt that the texts would be a bond between us after I left.  As the same texts are used in all schools, the lessons become a shared memory within the school and throughout the city and the country.  Mention “What is More Useful” or “The Black Cat” and all students of English in special schools will remember.”

 

p. 110 – “I then labeled the Stages of History, putting each one higher and to the right of the other.  Everyone recognized what I was doing.  I then wrote ‘Socialist” slightly higher and to the right of “Capitalist”, and put “Communist” higher than that.  I added another live above “Communist” and put a question mark.

“Marx said the dialectical process is inevitable,” I continued.  “Do you agree?” Everyone nodded.  “It must go on and on.  If that is true, how can the end of history be Communism?”…The students were perplexed.  I think it was more than my American dialect, as they had met American teachers before.  But it might have been the first time in their schooling that they had been asked to evaluate Marx’s theoretical realities.  School learning required that they memorize texts or at least be able to retell it.  With so much to cover at each lesson there was no time for discussion, for reflection.  By the eighth year many students became numb to the disparity between the texts and their own realities; some were already cynical and most were bored.  In asking them to consider the implications of what they had read was another matter.”

 

p. 111 – “In the classroom, after all, a teacher is a teacher and students are students, adults and children teaching each other, learning from each other—at least that’s the way I have always done it.  I cannot see myself as “the teacher,” the one who knows, and “the students,” the ones who must learn from me.  It has never worked that way…

Zoya was fascinated with my teaching methods.  After the lesson on Marx, she said she wished she had been one of my students.  “You teach them to think.”

 

p. 112 – “The ebullient feeling that had permeated the room during the break vanished.  Her [Zoya] voice took on another rhythm.  The structure of the lesson in the text seemed to absorb her personality.  It was as if an Inspector had walked in, an Inspector who looked for the lesson to be performed as designed in the teacher’s text with each question, each explanation, each step to be carried out exactly as written.  I had heard that Inspectors could be that precise.  Zoya became “Soviet teacher” and her students become “Soviet students.”  The lesson materialized as if it had come from the book I read about Soviet education.  The children responded to her as if they were automatons, and she spoke to them as if she were on a language-lab tape.  When in pairs practicing dialogues, her students spoke to each other – back and forth, back and forth—without feelings, without emotion.  Nobody was having fun.  Nobody was charged with energy.  Nobody was thinking.  Everybody appeared bored.  They acted bored.  Yet everyone was involved.

 

…the lessons were more methodical than mine as teachers asked predictable questions, and students responded with predictable answers.  Because they were speaking from memory and retelling the texts, participation was guaranteed.  Besides, Soviet teachers can not tolerate silence as there is too much to cover.  Nor do they allow for mistakes as students are subject to being graded every day.  Therefore, methodical routines improve chances for success.  Success is better for everyone.  For students, good grades mean better choices after graduation; for teachers, they mean better evaluations.

 

…They spoke when asked and presented dialogues—retold, repeated, regurgitated without hesitation.  The voices were robotic—Zoya’s as well.  And the rhythm of the lesson, a relentless pattern: a question, hands raised at the elbow, standing, speaking, sitting; another question, hands raised at the elbow, standing, speaking, sitting.  If a student hesitated, the rhythm paused…No time for silence, no allowance for patience.  Too much to cover, too much to do.”

 

 

 

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Muzzled Malcolm Muggeridge and Happiness

little girllittle boyken in chairK and Y fishing

The truth can’t be muzzled for long, it will ultimately prevail and words written by Malcolm Muggeridge is a case in point.  I value Muggeridge’s writings because later in life, as a journalist seeking after truth, he wrote what had happened in Ukraine during the starvation period of 1932-33.  Of course, he was persona non grata once he started to expose what the socialists in England and the communists in Moscow wanted hushed up. Meanwhile, it was fun to enjoy fishing the other day and to see happy families together.

“Marx and Freud are the two great destroyers of Christian civilization, the first replacing the gospel of love by the gospel of hate, the other undermining the essential concept of human responsibility”

 

“The first thing I remember about the world…is that I was a stranger in it. This feeling, which is at once the glory and desolation of homo sapiens, provides the only thread of consistency that I can detect in my life.”

 

There is something ridiculous and even quite indecent in an individual claiming to be happy. Still more a people or a nation making such a claim. The pursuit of happiness… is without any question the most fatuous which could possibly be undertaken. This lamentable phrase ”the pursuit of happiness” is responsible for a good part of the ills and miseries of the modern world.”

 

“The pursuit of happiness, which American citizens are obliged to undertake, tends to involve them in trying to perpetuate the moods, tastes and aptitudes of youth.”

 

 

 

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