The First Time in History
SOME delegates of the Usbek "nation" came to Moscow. "We want a teachers' institute," they said. It is a prosaic demand, but it covers the wildest romance of education that perhaps the world has ever seen.
You have never heard of the Usbeks? Neither have I! Neither has anyone else except a few anthropologists who study the half-wild tribes between Europe and Asia. Some eight or ten of these people, doubtless sons of privileged chieftains, once penetrated far enough into the world to learn Russian and receive a higher education. It isn't surprising that you and I missed meeting those eight or ten.
In the days of the czar the Usbeks had not discovered the alphabet. It follows that they had no textbooks. No one, since the world began, even learned to read and write in Usbek. But then came the Russian Revolution.
Now there is an Usbek alphabet, reduced to simple Latin characters by learned philologists in Moscow in conference with those few Usbeks who knew Russian. There are textbooks in the Usbek language and schools in the Usbek villages. When the Usbeks send to Moscow for a teachers' institute, the education authorities take it as a routine of business, instead of the gorgeous romance that it is.
For Russia is crammed with such romances. The Usbeks are only one of a dozen petty nations that received alphabet and schools since the revolution. There are the Seranie, a Finnish tribe in the far north near Archangel. There are the Kuktschi, a savage tribe in the Caucasus. And the Migrel and the Lazen and the Imeretiner,--and half a dozen more. I write these names with joy, for I want to be the first person to put them into English. Unless some anthropologist or British secret service man has beaten me, I think this is their first appearance.
In the Russia of the Revolution, there are schools carried on in sixty different languages, and textbooks printed in all of them. Some ten or twelve of these languages had first to be reduced to writing. This programme of teaching the new citizens of the soviets is based on a definite programme of equal chance for all races. "Shall we multiply universities in Moscow before we give village schools to the Bashkirs?" is the way they put it.
Nor are these alphabets only for minor tribes which cannot count in Russia's history. When I was in Baku, the world's greatest oil-district, I visited dozens of schools and kindergartens. I talked with eager young men who were back from organising village schools among the Tartars. The Russian workers, they told me, had nearly all learned reading and writing. But matters went slower with the Tartars, who make up half the oil workers of Baku. Their language had no modern alphabet, only an ancient literary Arabic with little relation to daily speech. Until after the Revolution, this vast population of Tartars was unlettered. Now they also have a new alphabet and are fast learning to read and write. This is a fact of importance in the oil history of the future, for the oil of Baku is not so far removed from Persian oil fields to the south, and the connection between the two is by means of these Mohammedan peoples.
One hundred and sixty million copies of textbooks were issued by the Government Publishing House in Moscow, in the five months from April to August, 1923, for the job of teaching Russia. This Government Publishing House is the largest publishing house in the world. It prints books of every kind, but by far its largest output is school textbooks.
They need this enormous number of books (more than one per person in Russia, more than fourteen for each of the twelve million children in the schools) --not only because old books are worn out, but because the whole system of education is new. Even textbooks on mathematics are rewritten, to conform to the new mode of teaching.
Is there a communist mathematics, I asked in amazement. They explained patiently. Their idea is modelled more on the Dewey ideas of education than on anything else we know in America. Every new book by Dewey is grabbed and translated into Russian for consultation. Then they make their own additions.
"We call it the Work School," said a teacher to me. "We base all study on the child's play and his relation to productive work. We begin with the life around him. How do the people in the village gee their living? What do they produce? What tools do they use to produce it? Do they eat it all or exchange some of it? For what do they exchange it? What are horses and their use to man? What are pigs and what makes them fat? What are families and how do they support each other, and what is a village that organises and cares for the families ?"
"This is interesting nature study and sociology?" I replied, "but how do you teach mathematics?" He looked at me in surprise.
"By real problems about real situations," he answered. "Can we use a textbook in which a lord has ten thousand roubles and puts five thousand out at interest and the children are asked what his profit is? The old mathematics is full of problems the children never see now, of situations and money values which no longer exist, of transactions which we do not wish to encourage. Also it was always purely formal, divorced from existence.
"We have simple problems in addition, to find out how many cows there are in the village, by adding the number in each family. Simple problems of division of food, to know how much the village can export. Problems of proportion,--if our village has three hundred families and the next has one thousand, how many red soldiers must each give to the army, how many delegates is each entitled to in the township soviet! The older children work out the food-tax for their families; that really begins to interest the parents in our schools.
"Physics and chemistry and all forms of science start very early and very simply. What is the earth into which seed is put? What different kinds of earth are there? What effect does water have and where does the rain come from? By the third year we try to make trips to factories and understand the beginning of collective industry.
"For our second main endeavour is to teach the child collective action. We are frankly trying to fit him to build a socialist state. The schools are our next battle-front for communism. We have our self-governed school community, in which teachers, children and janitors all have equal voice. It decides everything, what shall be done with the school funds, what shall be planted in the school garden, what shall be taught. If the children decide against some necessary subject, it is the teacher's job to show them through their play and life together that the subject is needed."
That's the programme,--a dream of advanced education such as the world has not yet seen. And the reality,--shows half-savage tribes which have never had an alphabet, and thousand-mile stretches of backward peasants who never learned reading and writing. It is a typically Russian combination: a gorgeous plan and an utterly backward people, and a handful of young enthusiasts who intend that the thing shall be done.
How are they managing it?
Last year in Russia proper, not counting the Ukraine, 120,000 teachers out of a total of 150,000 took special courses to prepare themselves for this new form of school. They have to take these courses or lose their jobs to the new teachers who are being turned out of sixty new pedagogical institutes all over the land. For the older teachers, to save them, are three to six weeks' institutes with discussions, written tests and essays, held in three or four places in every province. Professors come from Moscow and Petrograd to hold them; all teachers must attend at least once a year.
They are a motley crew, these teachers. I talked with a group of them who were visiting Moscow on a five days' educational tour. This also was provided free of charge for half the teachers in the Moscow district; the other half would come the following year. Old gaunt men in threadbare clothes, old women wistfully eager to keep up, thin tall youths who had long outgrown their scanty clothing, energetic intelligent young women,--just the job lot of teachers as the Revolution found them, trying to make themselves over to fit the new world. They were going through big city institutes of learning, biological museums, physics laboratories. I asked them what chances they had to learn.
"This visit to the city," one girl told me, "and the Teachers' Institute for six weeks, and the Hecker American Correspondence Courses."
That is another romance,--those correspondence courses. A Methodist preacher from the East Side of New York was fired by the idea of educating Russia through correspondence courses on the American plan. He hoped first to enter with the Y. M. C. A. and spent two years with them organising courses. But America failed to recognise Russia and the Y. M. C. A. could not enter, so Dr. Julius Hecker, in the year of the famine, came over to Moscow with $5,000 and got a contract to run correspondence schools. He counts his pupils now by the tens of thousands.
His is not a profit-making concession, though he received free from the government a large building and much assistance. Most of his work is done on contract for government or labour organisations. The Department of Education desires courses for teachers, or the Trade Unions wish courses for foremen. He works them out, sells them at a price fixed by the organisation in question, at or below cost to insure widest use; and receives subsidies from the organisations to cover his losses.
Help of all kinds to educational projects is offered by the government, which knows it has not means enough to do the great job quickly. A committee on which I worked received the offer of a large estate on the Volga, if we could raise $5,000 for agricultural machinery and equipment, and build thereon a self-supporting children's colony, learning modern agriculture, The local authorities even offered to support the children free till the first harvest produced by their labour put the institution on its feet. But poor though they may be in money and anxious for assistance, one thing the educational authorities insist on,--that neither religion nor capitalist ethics shall be taught in the schools.
"The teacher must know how to teach nature study without God, and tell fairy-tales without the benevolent rich lord," said a man in the Central Department of education to me. I laughed, for I had seen the scheme at work.
Down in the Ukraine a teacher was telling a fairystory of Grimms,--yes, they still have fairy-tales, but strangely modified. It was the industrious goose-girl who marries a prince. Obviously in modern Russia a marriage with a prince does not include "they lived happily ever after." The teacher related the marriage as a fall from grace; the goose-girl was tempted and abandoned honest work, and was supported in a palace on money stolen from the common people, her early friends!
But the children refused such a shameful ending! They liked the goose-girl, so they had her refuse the prince and marry a coal miner who rose through ability and industry to be "red director" for the state mines of the district! The ending invented by the children is now adopted for the fairy-tale of Grimm.
Like everything in Russia, education went through its period of utter breakdown and confusion. In the days of the czar the village schools were church controlled. In the cities were expensive gymnasiums and real schools for the sons of the upper classes. In the last few years before the war the larger cities introduced some free city schools for sons of smaller officials who could not afford the gymnasium. But children of manual workers had little chance to learn.
During the Great War many larger city schools were taken over as hospitals and for other war uses. This use continued also during the civil war and the great epidemics. The new school authorities tried at once to get the buildings, but against the demands of war and disease there was little chance.
"We had some horrible experiences as a result of these war-uses," said a member of the school-management to me. "In Smolensk we took back a high school that had been a hospital for venereal diseases. We had no soap nor disinfectants; the blockade of the Entente kept these things out. We cleaned as well as we could with water. But soon they came to me: 'What shall we do; the children are coming down with syphilis' ? So we had to close the building."
These frightful times are past; for two years there have been soap and disinfectants in Russia, and a most energetic Board of Health. But the famine also brought hardship to the schools. I visited a school building in the village of Novo Semekino, near Samara, in the early autumn of the famine. Tiny, primitive, with one room holding perhaps forty children, it had been built in the days of the czar. With the revolution came zeal for education, and the year before the famine it was working three shifts. One group of children came in the morning, another in the afternoon, and a group of adults in the evening.
All over Russia I met similar expansions of school buildings,--before the famine. But now the building in Novo Semekino was shut, for the school master had fled to get food. All through the famine districts this happened. I went to seven villages organising kitchens; in three the schoolmaster had gone; in the four where the school teacher remained (they were usually self-sacrificing young women who stayed longer than the men), we saved them by making them managers of the A. R. A. food kitchens. But they no longer had time for teaching.
During that terrible winter I talked with Lunarcharsky. "Education has been strangled by the famine," he said. Half a million children in orphan homes came upon the budget of the school authorities. The State went on the new economic policy; in place of supplying everyone with food, including teachers, it was trying to make ends meet and acquire a gold basis. There was no money for education; the schools began closing.
Other difficulties also came, incident to imposing a new form of education on teachers who knew nothing about it and who were still vaguely antagonistic. "I must admit," said a Communist to me, "that the results were funny. Even our friends had to say: 'What kind of schools are these?' The teacher took the idea of work by the children, but nothing more. The schools were sometimes merely places where the children sawed the wood and washed the floors and got a little food."
But even in those darkest days one thing was noticeable about the children's homes, which from the beginning were the stronghold of the new education, supplied with the best teachers, since the children were continuously there. They might be hungry; they might be without pencils or books, but they were self-reliant little communities. I have visited scores of them,--sometimes far from the railroad, when the matron was absent in the village and the two teachers had not yet returned from town where they went in quest of food. Four or five of the children conducted me through the building with courtesy and utter absence of self-consciousness, showing me kitchen and bedrooms and answering my questions about menu and order of the day as well as a teacher could have done.
This was part of the basic policy of the new schools after the revolution. Self-government, self-help, self-management in common activity began from the first, even when there was nothing but a meagre bread ration to manage.
I visited a home in Samara where waifs cast away in the streets had been gathered. First these children were assembled in large "collectors" to be disinfected and quarantined and then organised into regular children's homes. That was theory. In practice there was no soap for the collectors, and no change of lice-infested clothing; the famished children died in huge proportions. But a score of "regular" homes had really been organised in a few weeks. I visited one of them.
Only five weeks removed from the streets and the hell of the over-crowded collector; but already organisation of life was plain. The children had little to eat, but all were in classes studying. They greeted me sincerely as I entered, informally coming over to meet me.
"What do they study in the first class?" I asked. "Reading and writing?"... "No," smiled the teacher, "in the first class they learn to speak Russian. They come from a dozen different tribes, speaking different dialects; they must first learn to understand each other. In the second class we have story-telling from Russian history and literature and the children learn self-expression. In the third class they learn reading, each from a different book, since we have no textbooks. Only the highest group can yet learn writing; we have just six pencils in the school!"
Those were famine conditions. Yet the children in this school, just learning to speak to each other, had their School Council for self-government which received a gift of chocolate I sent them, duly electing a representative to come and get it and furnishing her with proper papers of authorisation. They divided the chocolate fairly; they also divided fairly the day by day labours of the school, the floor-washing, bed-making, kitchen assistance. This fair, friendly division of labour is considered the cornerstone of education as citizens of a future socialist commonwealth.
For two years, while the education budget was so scanty, volunteer organisations came to the assistance of the schools. The slowly opening factories ran schools for the young apprentices and adult courses for workers. The education fund, fixed by law and union agreement for every industry, was diverted by vote of the workers to subsidise ordinary children's schools. In Baku the entire school system was supported out of the budget of the Oil Industry. They were proud of their achievement; in the czar's days there were twenty-two schools and no kindergartens; now there were sixty-two schools and fifteen kindergartens, and 121 classes in reading and writing for adults.
The direct management of schools by industries was only temporary. Workers' committees, unions, government departments, every form of organised life was called on for help in those days, lest education should go down. But with the first good harvest in Russia the days passed when Lunarcharsky must complain to the Congress of Soviets that his teachers were driven even to prostitution to get a living. Teaching is not yet a high paid profession, but it is above the reach of hunger. And through even this time of bitter need, fifteen to twenty thousand new schools have been opened in Russia, not counting the Ukraine.
Teachers are on the privileged list for the many educational chances which Russia now offers in profusion outside the regular form of the schools. I met in the great Agricultural Exposition in Moscow a teacher from Gomel who had come up to see new methods of farming. He was not a communist, but an "intellectual" who had fled to the villages to get food, during the hard winters of the revolution. His criticisms of the soviet government had been many, but they were drowned now by appreciation of the free excursion.
"Never since the world began," a teacher said warmly, "has any government set out to give such chances for culture to its people."
He came to town with a trainload of six hundred others, mostly peasants but with a liberal sprinkling of village teachers. The railroads and street-cars gave free transportation. The Exposition Committee gave a dollar "spending money." And the workers' organisations of Moscow took the country people in as guests, giving them board and room and guides from their own scanty wages. He himself had stayed at the house of some Map Makers, and learned about the making of maps.
The pittance he received as village teacher sup,ported him meagerly enough in the village, but would never have paid a trip to Moscow. Tens of thousands of peasants, village officials and teachers, received similar free trips last summer to the Exposition. In May of this year the Exposition opens again, as a permanent free school for peasants. This kind of popular education, through mixing of peoples, excursions, exhibitions and visits, is tremendously popular in Russia.
Since the first days of the Revolution, "propaganda trains" on the railroads, and "propaganda ships" on the Volga have carried to the people the messages of the new government. Many of the new schools had hardly anything to read at first except posters against Denikin and Wrangel. Mixed with these, and gradually superseding them, as political enemies faded into the past, were vivid posters showing illiteracy as the next great enemy of the nation; illustrations of tractor farming; information about diseases of cattle. Ignorance, dirt and disease, and the old fashioned farming methods were not gently reproved as in American exhibitions, as injurious to health and efficiency; they were denounced in war terms as enemies of the nation, traitors which sabotage our advance, "the next war-front we must conquer."
The "Baby Weeks" which proved popular in America have leaped across the tamer people of Europe, finding their second home in Russia. During an entire week in Moscow I was attacked by young collectors of donations for child welfare; while cheery posters of marching babies demanded mothers' milk, fresh air and freedom from flies. In the art of graphic cartoon and picture the Russians have little to learn from any people. They think in cartoons and exhibitions much more than in chilly statistics. They work in drives of public enthusiasm much more readily than in the prosaic organisation of every day.
Thus, at the time when public education was strangled for lack of money, the army made itself into one great school for soldiers; the trade unions organised 2,300 teaching centers and threatened expulsion from the unions and threats of unemployment for those who neglected this chance to learn to read. The army, drawing peasants from illiterate villages, is now one hundred per cent. literate, which is more than can be said of the French army. The trade unionists are going from bench and machine through strenuous three-year courses in the Rabfacs, which I shall tell about later, straight into the universities.
In summer the university students go in great bands from city to city, on educational tours which cost them nothing. The railways furnish free transportation; in the cities the students of Moscow exchange rooms and rations with Petrograd students who have gone to Moscow. Twenty youths of my acquaintance went on a two months' educational tour to the Altai mountains, between Russia and Central Asia. They were accompanied by four professors, a geographer, a geologist, an economist and an anthropologist; they were entertained by the local republic, and gave in return for their food and horses new maps of a region that had never before been explored.
In dozens of ways the lack of money is made good by the enthusiasm of the people. A trainload of students from Moscow was going to visit the coal region of the Donetz; on the way the engine broke down. The students promptly divided themselves into three groups and held three sets of continuous lecture courses for the local people, one for the children, one for the peasants, one for the railway workers, telling them all the new things they had been learning in their university. There is a tremendous will to acquire knowledge and to spread it, which breaks down all hindrances.
The great Agricultural Exposition last summer was a final climax of this popular education, through the mixing of peoples. From every part of Russia the peasants came, and each found his own village typically represented. The high two-story house of the north, where the heat from the animals below rises to warm the family; the many types of log cabins of the middle timber regions; the southern houses of straw and mud plaster; the round tents of nomads made of felted camel-skin,--all these modes of living were faithfully reproduced, with their living inhabitants still installed in them.
In the festival pavilions gathered groups of many nations, in national costumes with national dances and songs. When they went forth over the Exposition Grounds they could see, in the midst of buildings of a score of soviet republics, a great relief map of Russia, fashioned in the earth itself, showing the treeless tundras of the north, the vast timber belt, the steppes of the south, the rivers and mountains to the farthest seas.
Not a single tribe, however ignorant, lowly and wild, was displayed contemptuously, as we in American Expositions show the Igorrotes. The spirit of the Exposition was: "Behold the kinds of folks we are in this great country." But over against all actual dwellings was set, in criticism of all alike, the display of the model village, with community building for school and library and hospitality and recreation. The new state industries were shown, their products, their hopes and achievements; the co-operatives were featured; new methods of agriculture, of soil drainage, of better seeding and cultivation, filled dozens of buildings.
What the Exposition does as one great event had been carried on continuously for over a year in "Peasants Houses" in every city and township centre. The chief of them is in Moscow, a big hotel with beds for several hundred peasants, with baths and disinfection for clothes, and first aid, and reading-room and club rooms. It receives peasants coming to Moscow with complaints or demands from villages throughout Russia; it furnishes them with a Legal Aid Department which connects them with every part of the government; with a motion picture and lecture hall on agricultural methods, with a first-class exhibition of animal and plant diseases, modern methods of churning and baking, model specimens of farm products from different regions.
The communist government of Russia knows, and knows fanatically, that its entire future depends on the way the young peasants grow up and the ideas they acquire of co-operation with one another and with the city workers. Lenin himself started over a year ago, a movement now known as "Smichka," which means "friendly co-operation." Its purpose is to bring close relations between workers and peasants.
This was the idea back of the hospitality shown by Moscow workers to the exposition visitors, out of their own wages. The idea goes farther. Every large factory, every government department, chooses some village to which it acts as Big Brother. The Foreign Office of Moscow has under its wing a village some sixty miles from Moscow. The high diplomatic officials may be summoned any day to go down to the village and explain the relations be· tween Russia and England. When the villagers come up to town, they find information and help in the union headquarters of Foreign Office employees.
These Big Brother relations are as serious and permanent as a formal adoption; they are assumed by mutual agreement and involve definite responsibilities. They are a revelation of the possibilities of education and cultural help without money.
Not far from Moscow is a Musical Children's Home, where education specialises in music and dramatic art. A musician from the United States, sitting beside me at a concert by these children, said that no private school in America contained such a collection of voices. They were chosen for musical talent from tens of thousands of children in children's homes in Moscow. They have for their Big Brother patron the Grand Opera Artists who come down to entertain the children with concerts and instruction.
Students in Moscow who came from the province of Smolensk, chose a large township of Smolensk to which they act as big brothers. In their summer vacations they go in organised groups to teach the villages the latest knowledge of the city. When the peasants come up to Moscow, the students are hosts and guides.
The university students are a story by themselves. The whole university system has been changed by the Revolution. There are personal tragedies here; my secretary, a girl of good family, had been waiting for two years hoping to get into the university. Education in Russia is a class affair; trade union representatives, communist party members, children of workers and peasants get preference. Private persons wishing education can also enter, but the number is limited and the cost high.
There is reason for this discrimination. The State pays the bills, and regards the universities as organs of the State, to train as rapidly as possible the leaders needed for a new Russia. Education is a State gift, not to be had for mere wishing, but given to those whom some recognised organisation wishes to have specially trained. The Foreign Office selects and sends some promising young man to learn Asiatic history; the Railways send picked young workers to learn engineering and transport problems. The universities are regarded as a tool for building and developing Russia.
They have more students than ever; Petrograd indeed has fallen from fourteen to six thousand; Moscow remains the same; the provincial universities, Kazan, Saratov, Yaroslavl, Perm and many others have tripled, more than making up for Petrograd. But they are filled, not with young people acquiring culture, but with students taking special courses for special needs of the State.
So the various faculties undergo great changes. Theological sections, once important, are now no more. In the Crimea, existing in loneliness on a small pension, is a learned man who spent sixty years specialising in Church Law. The rights of bishops, the rights of priests, all these he knew thoroughly. Now be is told by a ruthless government: "The work of your whole life,---is nothing." Many personal tragedies are scattered through Russia of men proficient in things which no longer exist.
The Faculty of Law is smaller, and quite made over. Private property as its basis, has been superseded by community rights. Feudal powers and estate titles are thrown in the waste-basket. State officials no longer have to be lawyers. New laws need a few new lawyers, but not so many as before.
History and Economics,--here the change was greatest and wrought most upheaval. It was not all done by fiat from above; it was done also by conflict with student groups who had helped make the Revolution. Here is the hot field of conflict between old czarist dictatorship and new Marxist dictatorship. Before the revolution there were perhaps not three professors in Russia who ventured to advance an economic interpretation of history; now, if they would hold their jobs, they must learn as fast as may be, to be Marxians. The havoc has been great in these faculties.
Even Mathematics notices a change. The old scholastic discipline interests no one; applied mathematics for the engineering problems of Russia is the demand of these state-chosen students. Literature,--in the old days it required interminable browsing in church archives in the original Slavic tongue. "Now," says an energetic student, "Pushkin and Lermontov are good reading, but who wants to know the church fathers."
Education becomes practical and vivid, the handmaid of immediate work. It loses in academic flavour; it gains in application to modern problems. The greatest increase in higher learning has come in technical institutions. Agriculture, mines, electricity,--these flourish, developing new branches. Into these pour not only young people of university age, but adult workers, skilled in trades, graduates of the Rabfacs.
The Workers, Faculties, or Rabfacs, form the one completely new organisation in Russian education. They are a temporary expedient; when all of Russia's youth is educated, they will not be needed. They are a short-cut for especially gifted workers to the chances of higher learning.
I talked with a mechanic in the Amo Auto Factory who had received the chance to enter a Rabfac. For years in America he had wanted higher education, but had never been able to secure it. Now his union was paying his way for three years' intensive study in preparatory technical courses; on graduation from the Rabfac, he could enter the highest engineering colleges.
Three-fourths of the students now entering the Medical School of Kharkov are Rabfac graduates. Soldiers who learned to dress wounds in the war, or were pressed into hospital service in typhus epidemics; they acquired a taste for being a doctor. They passed preliminary examination, proving that they could read and write and had general intelligence. They were recommended by their organisations as serious in purpose. Then they spent three grilling years in a Rabfac preparing for the university.
The old professors groan that these students break down high academic standards. The new professors retort that they bring energy and purpose. Let no one suppose that the Rabfacs are amateur easy courses. "I never knew what work was in my life," said a university man to me, "till I saw these Rabfacs. They are awkward in mind; they lack habits of study; they go at it bitterly, relentlessly. Day by day they grow thin and worn, their features are pointed with hunger and work."
Such is the grim determination of the modern student world in Russia. I remember a young girl who slept occasional nights on my sofa. She had fought at the front in the Polish war and shown signs of leadership; it was decided that she was worth training for her country, so she came to the university.
She spent her evenings giving political and civil instruction to factory groups. She slept anywhere she could, having no room in the over-crowded city. She shivered one day in the snow, and when I loaned her a sweater, remarked that "since she was frozen at the front, she didn't seem able to stand cold." She laughed as she related how she and another student, in the hard years of civil war, had been refused admission to a cafe because they were barefoot. Such silly bourgeois standards,--these cafes!
I remember the morning when she woke in my room, converted to the doctrine of open windows. "It's the first morning I haven't a headache," she said cheerfully. I remember the afternoon when she said: "I feel so queer to-day. I have no stomachache. It must be the cornflakes and milk you gave me instead of that heavy black bread." She had continuous headache and stomach-ache; she was worn out nervously by her years at the front. She studied till she broke and went to a farm to work, and came back to study to breaking point again.
Another girl I know, who went as nurse to the Volga famine at the age of sixteen. She had typhus and typhoid and smallpox all in succession, in a horrible overcrowded barracks lying two in a bed. She woke from delirium to feel her partner's dying struggles beside her. She rolled fainting out of bed while the woman died above her. She herself was so far gone that the doctor said: "Put her with the dead ones," by the merciless rule that reserved the scanty care for those who still had a chance. Yet she recovered; she has continuous stomach trouble from eating substitute straw bread after typhoid. But she walks six miles a day to study at the university. And in the evening, after she has helped get dinner and wash dishes in the house where she works for board and room, she sits down, pale and smiling, and turns off page after page of music, her own composing, for which she has shown unexpected talent. It is not plaintive and sad, her music, like the old Russian folk-songs; it has a touch of rollicking defiance.
It is magnificent; it is terrible. Lots of them have tuberculosis and neurasthenia. Lots of them have died, and lots more are going to die. The youth of a nation does not go through eight years of war and revolution and blockade and famine without paying. Each young life had its struggles with hunger and cold and disease that the youths of our land never know. ... They don't take themselves sentimentally, so perhaps we needn't either. They count themselves as a group that will carry on at the cost of many members. They storm the heights of knowledge wastefully, as trenches are taken in battle.
For the heights of knowledge are recognised as the next great battle-front of Russia. They speak of the "front" of Education. They are not cheerful casual college boys; they are an army setting forth to conquer. The greatest stretch of territory on earth lies before them. Its mines and forests and rivers and farms undeveloped challenge them. Its hundred and thirty million peasants and nomad tribes speaking sixty different languages, call to them. ... They intend that they, the youths of this generation, shall build of this raw land and this backward people the first socialist commonwealth in the world, in advance of any nation.
It is a purpose as terrific as battle, demanding the same disciplined yet reckless valeur. They cannot wait, for Russia cannot wait. They intend to hurry history.