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Julius Falk

How Youth Is Debased Under Russian Totalitarianism

Stalin’s Education: From Classroom to Barracks

(2 December 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 48, 2 December 1946, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Every socialist knows that in a real socialist country the greatest effort would be made to guarantee the education of its youth. Education would, of course, be free with the greatest latitude allowed the individual student in choosing his curriculum and developing his ideas. The individual student in a socialist land will be an economically secure individual, which will relieve him from worry about immediate needs and will give him more time to study.

For women, education under socialism will have an added significance; to place them on an equal social and intellectual level with men. What socialism means for the student then is summed up in a few phrases: education for an increasing proportion of the population, experimentation and freedom of thought as opposed to regimentation, an economically independent student and an extensive co-educational school system.

That Russia is already a socialist state, has for a long time been the claim of the Kremlin. That this claim is a monstrous lie has for as long a time been the claim of revolutionary socialists.

The Russian Attitude

Nor is it mere speculation that the Russian government has failed to provide proper education for its youth. The facts are there for anyone to read directly from Russian sources. Russian laws and statements related to education are, from the socialist point of view, self-condemning; by their own words and deeds the Kremlin leaders point to themselves as a class which prohibits a widespread, not to speak of socialist, education of its youth.

Let us examine these points to see how education today is more the antithesis than an example of a socialist society.

1) Education for an ever increasing proportion of the population: In all of Russia with its nearly 200 million, there are only 550 thousand high school students. After ten years of supposed “socialism” in Russia there is this pitifully small number of high school students! This is a fact, not invented by the author, but found in an article by Sergei Kaftanov, the Minister of Higher Education in the USSR. In this article, published in the October 1946 issue of a bulletin put out by the National Council of American Soviet Friendship, Kaftanov writes: “A student body of 550 thousand attended 806 institutions of higher learning in the Soviet Union in the academic year 1945–46.”

And what about future plans for Russian youth. Kaftanov informs us: “During the next five-year period the number of students in the higher schools is to be increased to 674 thousand.” What sort of socialism is it where, with millions of youth deprived of a high school education, only an additional 124 thousand can hope to be admitted during the next five years?

No Intellectual Room

2. Experimentalism versus regimentation – The position of Russian youth today in the schools is analogous to the social status of the Russian worker. Just as the Russian workers are held in a tight exploitive grip of the state, so are the students deprived of any intellectual elbow room by the school authorities. There is no real learning in Russian schools, for that requires investigation, debate and exchange of opinions between the students and with their instructors. In Russian schools, however, that is strictly taboo. The very fact that there is not one student organization in Russia that has not been initiated or wholly approved by the Russian state is indicative of the lack of freedom and thinking in the schools. In an article from Pravda, August 2, 1943: “Practical experience of the best teachers long ago refuted all the talk that compulsion or punishment was harmful.” Sounds as if Pravda were quoting a Nazi expert on education! The essence of Stalinist school methods can be seen in a series of twenty regulations first printed in Vchtelskaya Gazeta – official publication of the Department of Education of the S.U. (reprinted in the January 1944 issue of American Teacher). Just a few of the 20 rules:

Rule 3 – “Obey unquestioningly the order of the school and the teacher.”

Rule 9 – “Arise and stand at attention upon the entrance either of the teacher or the director of the school and on their exit from the class.”

Rule 12 – “Be respectful to the principal and the teacher. In meeting the principal and the teacher away from the school, greet them with a polite bow, boys removing their hats.”

“Compulsion,” “Punishment,” and bowing before the teacher in the manner of a serf before a lord, these are the self-proclaimed earmarks of education in Russia. This despotic educational policy is not accidental. It is a necessity for the bureaucratic class in Russia to keep its youth intellectually sterile and to train them to take orders. A progressive educational method might produce a generation that doesn’t remove its hat to a director and might question, doubt and act accordingly.

Militarization of Education

Militarism is playing an ever greater role in Russian “education.” Not only is more emphasis placed on military drill during school hours, but male students are required’ – not asked – to spend many hours in the Russian equivalent of the ROTC. Also, a number of military schools have been opened almost exclusively for the children of the wealthier classes in Russia. At these academies youngsters from the ages of 8 are dressed in uniforms and taught all the aspects of modern warfare in a manner strangely’; reminiscent of Mussolini’s corps of 8-year-old soldiers.

3. Economic status of the student – By and large the bulk of high school and university students do not suffer from want, for the simple reason that Russian schools above the 7th grade are open only to those who can afford it. In Russia one must be able to afford a “socialist” education. In two Russian decrees (Oct. 3rd and 12th, 1940) free education above the seventh grade was abolished. Students in secondary schools must pay 200 rubles annually in urban centers, and 150 rubles in rural districts. College students must pay 400 rubles in the city and 300 in rural areas. The tuition in music and art schools was set at 500 rubles.

Almost immediately after the decrees were passed 600,000 of the poorer students were forced out of the schools and universities. Because of the small income of the average family in Russia they cannot secure anything more than the most elementary education for their children. The managers and officials, however, who receive many times the income of the Russian worker find no difficulty in sending sons to a smart Suvorov Military Academy or their daughters to an exclusive ballet school. The ruling class is worried about the low level of production and shortage of labor power. One way of forcing Russian youth into the mines, factories and fields is to make schooling financially prohibitive. There is another more direct means of forcing youth into industry – the labor draft. From July to mid-August of this year hundreds of thousands of 14-year-old boys and girls were forced into the grey uniform of the labor reserve. The plan is to give most of these children a two-year course in a factory trade or railroading after which they will start work in their trade. (N.Y. Times, Nov. 13, 1946)

4. Co-education in Russia – Russian women today are assuming more and more the social status of women in bourgeois countries. No longer are women being educated to think for themselves, and actually to be, the intellectual and social equals of men. Instead, they are being taught that their role in society is to work and bear children for the state. The latest abortion and divorce laws bear this out. But there is no evidence so striking as the end of co-education in the Russian schools. Extensive co-education has always been an inherent part of progressive educational methods. However, in Russia a decree was issued in August 1943 abolishing co-education. (Vchitelskaya Gazeta, Aug. 1943) All children from the ages of 7 up are to be separated according to sex, and a special curriculum arranged for girls along the lines of domestic virtues. In explaining the significance of this new policy a school director in an official report wrote:

“A girl as a future mother must know how to care for children and how to educate them. Whatever is said about the various duties of men and women in the education of children, mother is always mother ...”

The degeneration of education is not an isolated phenomenon. Rather, it is an integral part of the pattern of life in contemporary Russia. The needs of the bureaucracy conflicts with the needs of its youth. The former requires a large military and labor force and a constantly increasing population which is well schooled in acquiescence; a thinking, educated section of people is a threat to any despotic rule.

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