Education in Russia
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Manifesto for the Educational Revolution
R.F.Mackenzie
1980

[chapter 1] [chapter 2] [chapter 3] [chapter 4] [chapter 5] [chapter 6] [chapter 7] [chapter 8] [chapter 9]



Chapter six

Education In Russia -
The Defeat Of The Revolution

"We do not recognise juvenile crime. We know only sick
children, spoilt by an ugly environment and education."
Krupskaya

For this account of an experiment in education I am indebted to Sheila Fitzpatrick's books, The Commissariat of Enlightenment, Soviet Organisation of Education and the Arts under Lunacharsky, October 1917-1921, and Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union 1921 - 1934. (Both, Cambridge University Press.) The experiment had much going for it. There was "a sense of a world in flux but changing for the better". The minister in charge, Lunacharsky, had all the qualities to pilot a new venture in education. Once when he had not carried out an instruction of Lenin, a disapproving subordinate said to Lenin, "And you are still fond of him." Lenin replied, "And I advise you also to be fond of him. He is drawn towards the future with his whole being. That is why there is such joy and laughter in him. And he is ready to give that joy and laughter to everyone."

Lunacharsky had the full support of Lenin, who rarely missed a meeting of Narkompros, the education ministry. Equally valuable was the loyal support of Lenin's wife, Krupskaya, who (it seems to me) emerges from this story as one of the great educators of our century. The photograph and the story suggest a warm, motherly figure, so wrapped up in providing for the deprived children of Russia that she was devoid of egoism and pretentiousness and glitter. (She was not interested in meeting Bernard Shaw in his much-starred tour of Russia in the company of Lady Astor.) She was a simple, highly intelligent character, not of the intelligentsia. She said that the opponents of the educational experiment they were carrying out "still cannot throw off the old view of the mass as an object of the intelligentsia's care, like a small and unreasonable child.... We were not afraid to organise a revolution. Let us not be afraid of the people, let us not be afraid that they will elect the wrong sort of representatives, bring in the priests. We want the people to direct the country and be their own masters. We are always thinking in old terms, that if we do not spare ourselves and work day and night in the people's cause, that is enough. But it is nothing. Our job is to help the people in fact to take their fate into their own hands."

Largely unaided by the experts, they were creating a new kind of education. It was to be compulsory, co-educational and secular, for all young people between the ages of eight and seventeen. Hot breakfasts were provided. There was a month's open-air instruction in summer. Homework, punishments and examinations were abolished. The local groups, administering education, consisted of teachers, representatives of the local working people, senior pupils and one official representative. These local authorities were given maximum autonomy and there were no inspectors because inspectors recalled Tsarist methods. Pupils were to get aesthetic training and physical training and were to participate in work for the community.

Anyone who has tried to introduce changes in a school knows the desolating gulf that exists between the noble principles and the clumsy practice. Things go wrong and the priests and the intelligentsia scoff. The junior secondary experiment in Scotland later in the century (a modest venture) ran into the same boggy ground as Russia's experiment in education. Both gave much freedom to the teachers to put their own initiatives and dreams into practice and in both countries the teachers failed them. I suppose it was inevitable. How can teachers, brought up in a narrowly authoritarian society, suddenly cope when given control of their own destiny? The Russian educational HQ passed down messages asking the local teachers what innovations they had introduced, what subjects taught, what integration of subjects, what work-based courses. 

Was there an enfolding aim of helping pupils to see their society and themselves as 'a living organism'? What were their plans for the future?  Back came the answers, obscure, badly written, often indecipherable. The local teachers were bewildered. There were requests for textbooks and 'full, simple and clear' instructions. I understand feelingly what happened. At Buckhaven in Fife I offered teachers the opportunity to run their classes in their own way, putting into practice their own ideas. But many of them replied, "Could you not give us a book to work from?"

But, as in Scotland, there were a minority of Russian teachers who thrived on the new freedom, linking the school with local production, offering culture to the local people, thinking about the aims and pitfalls of political education. Enough for Lenin, visiting them, to see the beginning of a new world.

But the failure was crude and widespread and distressing. Little children were doing their own washing. Nothing 'productive' about that, nor about the many hours spent in cutting wood and carrying water uphill. Local committees were out of touch with local needs. Krupskaya, touring the Volga-Kama region in 1919, was critical of the passion for theatricals (often poor plays) and modelling and woodwork, which she considered genteel abstractions from real life. Parents were hostile. Many teachers had no ideas of their own. So they had to send out inspectors to give practical demonstrations of how the ideal was to be realised.

The same narrow professionalism which exists as strong as ever in Scotland in the last quarter of the century confronted Lunacharsky in the first quarter and he fought against it. He opposed early professional specialisation; Communism, he said, had to provide an education to make the workers masters of industry and it wasn't enough to put them through a trade apprenticeship to make them semi-skilled workers. University entrance was without entry qualifications, and fees were abolished. Professors fought against these changes and talked (as many still do) of 'academic freedom' when they meant the freedom of a few professors to control the whole of education. Some of the professors (said the Communists) were sleeping quietly with their heads on the doctrinal theses they had written twenty years earlier. Professional resistance was the greater because Deniken was advancing on Moscow and many of the professors expected that he'd soon restore the old educational order.

Lunacharsky's first declaration as Commissar of Education abdicated the powers of Soviet government institutions over cultural affairs. "The people themselves, consciously or unconsciously, must evolve their own culture." It is greatly to the credit of the Russians that, even at this juncture of extreme danger of attack from outside, they gave time to a national debate on what culture really means. It was a fierce debate between those who saw European culture as a storehouse of riches to which all the Russian people should be given access, and those who saw it as bourgeois propaganda which would blunt the edge of the proletarian revolution. No punches were pulled. The participants felt deeply, and were aware that they were dealing with the deep roots and the ideas containing sap that nourishes or fails to nourish the human personality. Both sides would have agreed that culture fed life itself. What they were contesting was the nature of this life-giving food.

One speaker said, "Let us throw away bourgeois culture entirely as old rubbish." Kalinin said that that was 'anarcho-individualism'. But Bogdanov said that sending proletarian students to bourgeois universities would make them succumb to the bourgeois universities' ideology. (That's one of the problems Scotland hasn't yet faced up to. I remember seeing students from working-class homes in Aberdeen acting as strike-breakers during the 1926 General Strike when they drove buses and railway engines and helped to keep the economy moving.) Bogdanov continued that the body of knowledge accumulated by the bourgeoisie was useful to the proletariat only when reformulated in proletarian terms, and while his audience were wondering what that meant exactly, he expanded on it, showing that for him it wasn't an empty phrase. He said that the workers' universities had to do for the proletariat what Diderot and the Encyclopedistes had done for the French bourgeoisie in the 18th century. Each great class, he said, reinterprets knowledge in the light of its own class-consciousness.

At that point I realised that what Bogdanov said in September 1918 is what I'm trying to say in this book. It took me many years to rediscover this truth. Reading up about Diderot and the Encyclopedistes, I realise the strange twilight way in which the University of Aberdeen provided us with the information about these French rebels without implying that this information had any application to the present day. It might have been information about Ming vases for all the difference it made to our outlook on twentieth-century Scotland. The professor gave us, for example, a short biographical note on Montesquieu but I had no inkling that his Esprit des Lois had subjected social, political and religious institutions to the same searching and fundamental analysis as we might be persuaded to apply to the present institutions of Scotland. Aberdeen University's twentieth-century class-consciousness subtly fulfilled the requirement of a liberal university that it should make the information available, while at the same time preventing us from applying the information to twentieth-century Scotland and acting upon it. The university didn't stir itself to re-interpret the knowledge for us. And that is pretty much what Bogdanov was saying.

Nothing of this Moscow debate on culture percolated through to Aberdeen University. It was not within the University's brief to communicate to its students any awareness of a fundamental issue that had been debated, how ordinary people are educated to take over the running of their country. At Aberdeen the professor lectured; I copied down the notes; I revised them; I passed the examinations; I got my degree. And never at any time did I feel that I was capable of following the example of Montesquieu or Diderot or Voltaire and trying to shape the government of my country or influence the ideas of its people. That was reserved for a special class outwith our ken. It's so obvious to me now that we should all become involved in reshaping the government of our country that I cannot understand how the university could have been successful in directing our steps away from that path. I understand now what the Russians meant by proletarian consciousness.

Although he didn't participate in that Moscow debate (having been called away to Petrograd) Lunacharsky thought that, although art is moulded by its class origin, the best art of all classes and all periods is part of the 'human treasury' of art and the proletariat must draw on this in order to produce its own. A single class may produce different kinds of art, mirroring its rise and fall in artistic terms. Bogdanov, thinking in less abstract terms, said that the people must use this 'human treasury' to help them to understand the old world that created it and therefore be better able to fight against it.

This discussion on the function of art continued long after the conference. On one hand they said that art should serve the revolution. In a time of bloody revolution they should reject the past culture. In Pravda, Bukharin wrote that it was sad and ridiculous to put on The Cherry Orchard "in the days of this greatest of revolutions"; the working class, he wrote, tried to understand the value of all these nice things and to adapt their psychology to that of their grandmothers. "The remnants of slavish respect for aristocratic culture are deepened by the preaching of some of our ideologists who support the corruption of the proletariat." Some said that the theatres should be compelled to put on revolutionary plays. (In the same vein, they said that science should concern itself with immediate reality-heavy industry - and not with a love of nature) Lunacharsky, supported by Lenin, stood out against allocating a monopoly to revolutionary art. He denied that revolutionary art had any necessary connection with revolutionary politics. The revolutionary artists, he said, were "captives of the Paris cafes". He would defend the rights of free culture against "red sycophancy". "We are establishing a state dictatorship so as to send the state itself to the devil." "Let the worker hear and evaluate everything, the old and the new. We will not impose anything on him; we will show him everything." He said he'd seen the proletariat bored by revolutionary plays, and the Kronstadt sailors had asked them to be replaced by performances of Gogol and Ostrovsky.

Maybe it needs a political revolution to provoke a probing enquiry like this into the nature of culture. The food store labelled 'culture' generally contains some wheat and much chaff. We should be opening it up and looking into it. Human capacity for being taken in is far greater than I imagined when I was a student of Aberdeen University. No political or cultural revolution can succeed unless it has understood people's capacity to be conned and how to open their eyes to the extent of the con trick. If we lived in a less credulous society, the Education Department of Edinburgh University would be enquiring how many people go to see a Moliere play in French at the Edinburgh Festival, how many people speak French well enough to follow it, and what the net gain of the expensive performance is in human understanding. My own impression is that it is the middle, professional classes who are most easily taken in by the 'culture' label and who want to be seen to take an interest in culture'.

In the Russian debate on culture, both sides scored palpable hits. When I write that phrase, I realise that I'm part of the culture con trick. The cognoscenti, the culture in-group, will identify the Hamlet reference. In the fencing match in Act V between Hamlet and Laertes, Hamlet claimed a hit and appealed to Osric, and he agreed that it was "a hit, a very palpable hit". Having been brought up in the Eng Lit idiom, I find it difficult to resist the temptation to play on it. Through a cultural allusion you score points and gain support in the same way as Asquith did through a Greek or Latin quotation in the House of Commons, or a Catholic student who can quote St. Thomas Aquinas in a debate in the Gregorian University in Rome. We are all a long, long way from freedom of thought, from judging an issue on its merits. The Russian debate was breaking clear of these irrelevant influences on men's minds. They were getting nearer to a grasp of the realities that they were debating. They were trying, however clumsily, to grasp the truth, to get down to essentials, - which isn't happening in the debate on education in Britain. In September 1977, the Scottish Council for Research in Education presented its silver medal (for meritorious research) to an expert who had undertaken a study (carried out for the Scottish Certificate of Education Examination Board) of the comparability of examining standards. Neither side in the vigorous Russian debate thought that education was about examinations.

The Russian debate could have gone either way, with enduring results. One side said, "Experience shows that students are too naive in the struggle with the well-organised class enemy, and lightly abandon their positions". That still happens widely in Aberdeen. Our douce respectful students feel that it is uncouth and arrogant to dispute the basic ideas fluently presented by the lecturers. Who are we (they feel) to set up our puny ideas against the wisdom of the ages? Movements for revolutionary, or even liberal, change are up against it when they collide with rich and deeply-entrenched communicators. Shouldn't the unsophisticated student (or the unsophisticated reader of the Sun newspaper) be protected and sheltered until he or she has gained enough strength to be able to swim against that current? On the other hand the providing of such shelter can lead to untenable propositions. It was asserted that "Applications for the Proletkult choir in Petrograd were invited only from people 'with party recommendations' ". That restriction implied that the only good singers were Communist singers, and therefore that the only good poets, dramatists, actors, novelists, scientists, lawyers, teachers were Communist poets, dramatists.... It's obviously not true; but once you confer influence on those who are indifferent to the Communist Revolution, you endanger the Revolution. So what do you do?

Lunacharsky and Lenin and Krupskaya were in no doubt. "The people themselves, consciously or unconsciously, must evolve their own culture." The government stood for the complete separation of art from the state, and opposed state support of any single artistic group on the grounds that it would inhibit the development of other groups. It was Communism with a human face. Thus Lenin and Krupskaya and Lunacharsky, the party in the middle, were assailed on one side by the professional educators who wanted to restore the old curricula and the university traditions, and on the other by the revolutionary artists who wanted to ban The Cherry Orchard. Both these groups had in common that they distrusted the judgement of the majority and wanted to impose on them what they regarded as appropriate education. But Lenin was ill, and there were immediate dangers to the Revolution, - hunger, civil war and the threat of economic collapse. The tide began to recede. It was as if all that creative energy expended by Lunacharsky and Krupskaya was exhausted by the opposition it encountered. For them the educational revolution was at the heart of the Russian Revolution.

They wanted a society in the running of which everyone participated. To do that they had to take the priestcraft out of schools, they had to make the schools comprehensible so that everyone understood clearly not only the classroom work but its function in preparing the young confidently to take over the running of their society. For a brief spell it looked like the dawn of a new era, but the red promise in the eastern sky faded. Why did it fade?  Out of a complex of causes I'd guess that the main one was the hold that centuries of priestcraft had established on the human mind. Three centuries earlier, in The Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan described in allegory what befalls anybody who seeks to escape the dominion of the controlling ideas of his time. He makes Apollyon say that there is no prince that will lightly lose his subjects, and, when the pilgrim refused to return to his allegiance, "Apollyon straddled quite over the whole breadth of the way." In Russia, Apollyon reasserted his authority. Education and politics became again areas for the exercise of obscure priestly rituals unintelligible to the majority. The reversion didn't happen suddenly. There were reluctantly ceded areas and one major advance before Stalin clouds finally settled over the landscape.

Russia's failure of nerve in education is deserving of more study than it has received because it is the same failure as has bedevilled political reform in the west. Surprising that the politicians haven't realised that it all comes back to ideas in people's minds. That is to say, education. The failure of the Labour Party in Britain and of the Scottish National Party in Scotland is related to their assumption that politics is a separate sphere of human activity largely unrelated to education and such-like. When will they ever learn that politics is about values, not just about material gains, and that education is about values, not the passing of examinations and acquiring of information? And that therefore we should spend some time enquiring into what our values are? There is in western society an energetic disposition which encourages us to 'get on with the job' and not 'waste' time talking about basic things. We're brought up to long for reassurance. We find it uncomfortable to live with unanswered basic questions and we'd rather accept an authoritarian pronouncement that lets us get on with the job and put our energies into the daily detail. We can then limit our enquiries to more immediately practical things. The Russian teachers reverted to the traditional belief that education is largely about the communicating of information and, like teachers in western schools, they discussed what was the best way to communicate information.

In capitalist countries the Dalton Plan was the fashion. The idea was to settle on a unifying project, - water, or fire-arms, or cities, for example - and relate most of your studies for the term to that single theme. You could study the chemistry of water, hydrostatics, hydroelectricity, geology and the seas, ships, drainage and town-planning, and the English teacher would present poems about water. Russia imported the Dalton Plan and utilised it to engage the interest of the pupils in community farms and factories and political campaigns. Sometimes the children were used as cheap labour, sowing and picking cotton. They were like the later 'work-based' courses in Britain and ran into the same snags. Factory managers didn't like children under their feet. The basic argument was that the pupils got a knowledge of the industry. It's one of the flattering unctions that teachers lay to their souls. I took a group of Kirkcaldy children to a linoleum factory and they got up to all sorts of tricks. We did a project on mining. A Fife miner angrily asked me, 'What are you trying to do? Turn my son into a miner?" The failure of these courses, in Fife as in the Donbass, was due to the old belief that the best way to bring up children is to fill them with information. Later the Russians burned in effigy "Lord Dalton, an English bourgeois."

A more promising development was the "School of Peasant Youth". It was an attempt to provide a curriculum based on the skills and interests of a rural community, but that also failed. Later, in Botswana, Patrick van Rensburg pioneered a similar programme of secondary education more relevant to the needs of the people. There was a background of practical work, in harmony with the local industries, - washing mohair from Angora goats or Kalahari karakul, spinning, weaving it into tapestries of the pupils' own colours and designs, welding school furniture, tanning, growing vegetables, making pottery, repairing cars and installing a generator. He had hoped that the study of literature and mathematics and science would activate a leaven of thought and feeling which would interpenetrate the social and political system. It didn't work out that way. In his Report from Swaneng Hill : Education and Employment in an African Country (published by the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation) he wrote, "More important was the extent to which the students saw the aims of the school as improving or affecting their future job prospects, the key to which was examination results." He was up against the ethos of the black parents who wanted more discipline, finer accommodation, smarter appearance. "School is the gateway to privilege, and entry demarcates for most the border-line between well-being and neglected stagnation in a rural village or an urban slum."

These were the forces, in Russia as in Africa, which took the momentum out of educational experiments and swung them back into the old channels. Economic insecurity reinforces material values. "A good job" is paramount.

There were other forces, some of them unexpected, that bedevilled educational reform in Russia. In the early days, when they knew that they were on the frontiers of pedagogy, there was an intoxicating hope that a revolutionary change in his environment would make a change in the nature of man. They hoped that a child growing up in that new environment would acquire characteristics that he would hand on in his germ-plasm to unborn generations. But when geneticists questioned that belief, an optimist like Bukharin became disproportionately depressed. "If we took the view that racial and national peculiarities are so persistent that it would take thousands of years to change them, then of course our whole work would be absurd because it would be built upon sand." There is an echo of the apostle Paul who wrote to the faithful in Corinth, "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." Revolutionaries have to learn not to place all their hopes on Christ's resurrection or the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

The liberal-minded Commissariat of Enlightenment was buffetted by many contrary winds, the habits and instincts of the rank-and-file, parents who wanted vocational training for their children, teachers who wanted to get back to the security of textbooks and subject-teaching. The old curricula, crammed with information, were reintroduced. But school-children called social studies "the most boring and dreary" subject in the school, and referred to its teacher as "the Soviet priest". Others referred to it as "a canonisation of Marx", "a Soviet Law of God". The use of examinations to fix it in the curriculum didn't commend the subject. Fifty years later some of the ecclesiastical priests in Scottish and English schools are using the same methods as the Soviets used to promote their religion and they are likely to have similar results.

Victor Shulgin, a young Communist intellectual who had entered the Commissariat in the 1920s, led the battle to restore Russia's experiment in education. He appealed for a reappraisal of the foundations of Marxist pedagogy. What is pedagogy? he asked. Is it merely a study of the formal processes in a school?  Or a study of everything that influences a child, including the social environment? In this book all I'm doing is to reiterate Shulgin's questions. He thought, as I do, that the school was an essential bourgeois institution and he hoped it would wither away as the Bolsheviks hoped that the state would wither away. But much of this work was nullified at the "great turning point" of 1928 - 1929. The state prosecutor had announced the discovery of a counter-revolutionary economic conspiracy' in the Shakhty region of the Donbass, in which mining engineers had sabotaged coal production. Stalin claimed that the future of the country depended on the speed of industrialisation. "Bolsheviks must master technology," he said. He wanted to create from the working class a loyal intelligentsia skilled in engineering and capable of understanding and carrying out working-class policy. "Not a single ruling class has managed without its own intelligentsia," he said.

Everything was subordinated to that over-riding object, and it was useless for the old guard to maintain that the Soviet Union, like the Capitalist world, was degrading the working class into a mere labour force. From about 1931 the old traditional beliefs and attitudes came surging back into the schools. Student self-government was abolished and students were told to "learn the traditions of the profession from those who have won professional honour and respect." There were monitors, 'grades' as in the USA, and examinations for each academic subject. Pupils were filled with 'general knowledge'. They were taught grammar. The schools became almost identical with western schools. One small difference was that incomprehensibility in Russian classrooms was given a communist slant. A sentence, the pupils learned, is "a unit of communication expressing objective reality through class consciousness."

Chronological history was introduced, to make the subject systematic like mathematics and the sciences, and thereby (it was hoped) to fix in children's minds important historic events, personages and dates. The history faculties of Moscow and Leningrad universities were re-established to write history textbooks for the schools and reinforce the prestige of the old bourgeois historians. Stalin wanted 'real' history for the schools by which (says Professor Fitzpatrick) he meant books which poorly-trained teachers could understand and on which students could be examined. Stalin had a crack at writing a school history book himself, and, says the professor, it was probably small comfort to the university historians that Stalin's attempt was even worse than theirs. By 1940 the old educational order was back in control. Uniforms were re-established in the schools and recalcitrant pupils expelled for one, two or three years. There were fewer working-class students. At the time A.S. Neill said that Russia had put the clock back. Vera S. Dunham, who has studied middle-class values in Soviet fiction, said that "the party leadership had made a 'Big Deal' with the new elite: bourgeois life-style in exchange for political loyalty." It gave them dachas, access to special stores and resorts, better accommodation, higher salaries and bonuses. The re-introduction of ranks and uniforms into the army brought formality and uniformity. Members of the elite and their wives should be dressed appropriately. A popular 'New Class' writer describes a scene in which a father tells his son that "a lord and master ought to dress like a lord and master" and buy the best serge suit in the store. As in the capitalist west, conformity began in the schools. There were to be formal procedures, respect for teachers and parents and academic standards. The ambitious young were to go to the Bolshoi Ballet and the Stanislavsky theatre and admire nineteenth-century Russian literary classics. Prominent in the Russian literature of that period are parents who want their children to have a better life than they had, by which they meant access to material and cultural luxuries. They wanted their children to know Pushkin's fairy tales.  A tractor-driver was happy beyond measure to watch his daughter at the grand piano playing Chopin and Tchaikovsky, "her plump little hands flying like birds over the keyboard." A Central Committee resolution had said that higher education was to give to what they called culture cadres, "the knowledge of all the riches which mankind has fashioned." It was a Lenin quotation and Lenin knew clearly what he meant. He was saying that human beings have tried to extort from their experience and express in the arts an understanding of what life is about, which may shed light on our dark path. But I doubt if the later Central Committee was as clear about it. By that time culture had resumed the vague connotation which it still holds, alike in Moscow and Edinburgh, - Shakespeare and all that. The Russian and Scottish schools alike connive at this posh, remote culture, teaching their pupils to say the right things in the examinations on literature. Recently I watched them doing the same in California.

In the German town of Elberfeld in 1938 a Jew, about to emigrate to Australia, told me about a visit he had from an up-and-coming member of the local Nazi elite, who wanted to buy his furniture. The Nazi had brought his wife along with him and said to her, "Wouldn't these rows of beautiful books look well in our drawing-room!" In most societies upwardly-mobile groups capitulate to the culture and manners of the formerly privileged class. Some Scottish-born television announcers in Glasgow and Aberdeen adopt an accent more English than the English. We need more study of this phenomenon and a sympathetic understanding of the people who come within its influence. Many members of Stalin's new class had the high seriousness of Scots in mechanics' institutes and mutual improvement associations and the early WEA, Samuel Smiles characters concerned about education and improving themselves. It is when they have made good and arrived that subtle influences (against which their school education in conformity has not protected them) begin to weave a spell. An elderly Labour councillor in Fife, a miner, told me, "In the old days of the Tories we wandered up to the table and talked and after a while the convener would say, 'Well, gentlemen, maybe we should make a start. The first business...' But now we have a Labour council and a convener with a chain of office. An official commands us, 'Be upstanding for the County Convener!' and we all stand up and the convener marches smartly in and says, 'Be seated, gentlemen,' and we all sit down."

He smiled humorously at the antics of his formal colleague, but humour has not been the solvent of these pretensions that I would have expected it to be. It is ultimately a problem for the schools, that is to say a cultural problem, to protect their pupils against these subtle infections. The Communists in Russia, like the Labour Party in Britain, failed because their members were seduced by titles and such-like. It's a world-wide malady. In Zambia the new elite entered with gusto into the possession of the airy bungalows, the spacious leafy gardens, the swimming-pools that the British had vacated. They had Mercedes-Benz cars and retinues of servants and sent their children to the 'best schools'. And with this heritage of material possessions went also the accompanying programmes of automated factories, giant state farms, luxury imports, and elaborate city-based hospitals and schools, highly convenient for the new class.

Associated with this phenomenon, wherever on earth it happens, in Russia or Scotland or Zambia or the USA, are a respect and care for material possessions, high-quality goods, pride in a subway or a monumental palace, and sometimes a contempt for people who work on the land. It expresses itself in conformity, formal procedures, 'discipline', ribbons and ostentation, emphasis on hierarchy, docile study and examinations. This is an area of social anthropology which we have to understand more fully before we can improve the upbringing of our children. It is the same kind of temptation, although more subtle, as that to which Jesus was exposed in the desert, according to the Matthew account. The young technical experts of the Russian Revolution also were taken into an exceeding high mountain and shown all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them, and told, by a very cunning devil, "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." The wording was less simple, though. It said that the Bolsheviks had given up on the Marxist promise that the workers would rule, but they did hold out the promise (which they kept) that workers and peasants would have the opportunity to rise into the new ruling elite. For these likely lads of the working class (Brezhnev was one of them) "industrialisation was an heroic achievement and their own promotion a fulfilment of the promises of the revolution," and they were swept along with its momentum, and even cooperated in forming excuses for its excesses. The tragic sequel was chronicled by Milovan Djilas, former vice-president of Yugoslavia, imprisoned by Tito. In The New Class he describes the political priesthood which now runs Russia and Yugoslavia. The former lively, initiating groups had been transformed. Once established, they were interested in the proletariat only to develop production. It controlled the ideas of the enquirers in the ranks of the working class and recruited clever and ambitious members of the working class. "It has always been the fate of slaves to provide for their masters the most clever and gifted representatives."

Djilas said that all human systems have depended ultimately on the kind of people who run them and he saw the communist priesthood as self-seeking, and credulous. Many of them do believe that it is in the interests of the proletariat that power should remain in their hands. That fits in with Stalin's view of people. He saw men as either obedient servants or enemies, and himself as a god. Power, briefly extended to the people, was assumed by the commissars. The dreams of yester year, freedom of education and culture, the abolition of honours and exclusive privileges, were lying in the gutter like bunting in the rain that followed a festival. There was a drop in temperature. The compassion was gone. In those early days Krupskaya had proclaimed, "We do not recognise juvenile crime. We know only sick children, spoilt by an ugly environment and education," and Zinoviev had written that their philosophy was "loving the muzhik as he is, - benighted, calloused, illiterate, superstitious, believing in spirits and the devil," and helping him. But Russia had lurched back into a government controlled by the few and more concerned with production than muzhiks and children.

Djilas's assessment of the political priesthoods is now more widely shared on both sides of the iron curtain. In capitalist and communist countries more sheep are realising that the shepherds are working cosily together in their own interests, lacking the noble qualities with which the current mystical attitude to shepherds endows them. The shepherds are just sheep in special clothing, mitres, wigs, coronets, gowns, helmets.  As a disillusioned Communist, Djilas dwells on the Russian political priesthood who set wages and decide on economic developments and forbid strikes and pay themselves well; and maintain control over property, ideas and government. They cannot permit even small undertakings to be independent since that makes them feel insecure. Bureaucracy mushrooms also in the villages, since they fear the peasants unless they have control of their production. Djilas says that the appointment of 30, 000 party workers to be presidents of the collective farms showed the importance they placed on controlling agriculture. Decentralisation meant merely that more local bosses came in for benefits. Decrease in crops doesn't matter as much as the need to control the growers.

The new class get large cars and country houses and, as their material benefits accrue, their wealth of ideas decreases. Their values are reflected in their career structure and its accompanying jealousies and duplicity. Like all priesthoods, in order to maintain control they must maintain a common front of dogma and therefore they keep falling into profound internal contradictions, which they then seek to justify with abstract and unreal arguments. They strengthen their brute force and cease to create. "Only crumbs from the tables and illusions have been left to the workers."

And there the drama of the communist enlightenment, which came in with a bang in 1917, peters out. In the next chapter I want to show that, although the rest of the world did things less dramatically, the result was similar.

[chapter 1] [chapter 2] [chapter 3] [chapter 4] [chapter 5] [chapter 6] [chapter 7] [chapter 8] [chapter 9]


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