NEW RUSSIA'S PRIMER:
The Story of the Five-Year Plan
A WORD TO THE AMERICAN READER
THIS little volume came to my desk near the end of November, 1930. It was sent to me without comment by a Russian friend who was aware of my interest in both education and social planning. Although the author was entirely unknown to me at the time, a single glance at the contents of the book convinced me that here was a document of rare quality. A careful examination corroborated and strengthened this fist impression at every point. I showed it to my friends, and they were all of the same opinion. Practically every page carries the marks of genius. I decided at once, therefore, that it should be made available to the American reader.
The book was written for use in the schools and was designed for children from twelve to fourteen years of age. Its Russian title is The Story of the Great Plan, and its major object is to acquaint boys and girls with the Five-Year Plan of construction which was launched in October, 1928, and which has already attracted the attention of the world. It also purposes to explain to children the nature of a planned economy and to introduce them to the entire subject of social planning. All of this it does admirably.
For permission to bring out an English edition of The Story of the Great Plan, I am, of course, indebted to the author. Although Mr. Ilin is a young Soviet engineer, he writes like a poet. He has already written a number of other books for children which deal with various industrial processes and inventions. One of them, entitled 'How the Automobile Learned to Walk,' is particularly well done. I also wish to thank Mr. J. I. Zilberfarb, head of the Pedagogical Section of the Ukrainian Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, through whose kindness a copy of the Russian edition first came into my hands.
While New Russia's Primer might naturally be expected to appeal only to students of education, it can hardly be disregarded by any one who is interested in the fortunes of the Soviet experiment. It presents the major provisions of the Five-Year Plan with extraordinary clarity and charm. In fact, it is in many respects the best account of the Plan for the general reader that I have seen, either in Russian or in English. It also tells us something of the ideas on which Soviet children are being nurtured today. It likewise presents in graphic form that extreme
devotion to science, technology, and machinery which agitates contemporary Russia. But perhaps most important of all, it reveals the temper of the revolutionary movement and the large human goals towards which it is consciously tending. No one can read the last chapter without being moved by the great social vision which presumably animates and lends significance to the program of construction. Millions of boys and girls knowing to manhood and womanhood in the Soviet Union have no doubt already caught the vision and are ordering their lives by it. Here undoubtedly lies the power of that strange new society which is rising on the ruins of imperial Russia.
To American teachers and students of education the little book should prove both suggestive and challenging. A great and difficult theme is presented in language that is entirely intelligible to children. But this is a gross understatement of the facts: it is not merely intelligible; it is literally fascinating. The author has told his story so well that, as he says of the Five-Year Plan itself in Chapter I, 'when you begin to read, you cannot tear yourself away.' And the parable of the hats, if once heard, can never be forgotten, nor its lesson lost. Gigantic tasks of social reconstruction are brought into intimate relation with the interests of boys and girls. The lifting of their country out of a condition of severe cultural and technical backwardness is made to appear in the guise of a thrilling adventure. The chapter headings reach out and grip the attention; and almost every paragraph discloses the touch of an original mind. What child could resist the appeal of Conquerors of Their Own Country, On the March for Metal, When the Multiplication Table should not be Used, The War with the Kilometers, A Fragment from a Book to be Written Fifty Years Hence, or, The City of the Future. Mr. Ilin has shown by example how textbooks might be written. We should do well to emulate him.
In this competition, however, Mr. Ilin has certain clear advantages. The revolutionary struggle has placed in his hands some very powerful aids. It has generated a great system of planning organs through which society is endeavoring to shape its own future. Perhaps the most challenging feature of the little book, therefore, has to do with the relation of education to social planning. The Soviet Union is engaged in a vast program of construction which aims to improve the material and spiritual condition of all. This situation has placed upon the schools of Russia a social responsibility which is almost totally unlike anything to be found in other countries. It has also given Mr. Ilin his opportunity. He has dramatized the Five-Year Plan and has sought to evoke those loyalties to the general welfare which have commonly been associated with war in the past. Consequently, even more important than the form is the content of the book. The American teacher will be forced to put to himself the question: Can we not in some way harness the school to the task of building a better, a more just, a more beautiful society? Can we not broaden the sentiment of patriotism to embrace the struggles which men must ever wage with ignorance, disease, poverty, ugliness, injustice? This means that we shall have to turn our attention increasingly from the mechanics of school procedure to the fundamental problems of American life and culture.
In the translation an effort has been made to bring the spirit, as well as the substance, of the original document to the American reader. This was found to be quite difficult, owing to the wide differences in the structure of the two languages. Nevertheless, I think that the effort has been fairly successful. The English version, however, is perhaps somewhat more difficult than the Russian. But this is a matter of little consequence because there is no expectation that the translation will be used by children. It is designed to acquaint adults–teachers and educational laymen–with a phase of the Russian experiment which in the long run may well prove to be far more important than those sensational aspects of the revolutionary struggle which are emphasized in both the daily press and even the more serious publications. I sincerely trust that it will serve this purpose and at the same time contribute to a better understanding on the part of the American people of the greatest social experiment of history.
GEORGE S. COUNTS
NEW YORK CITY
January 23, 1931