Staunton, October 27 – The Soviet Union’s massive program to end illiteracy among the adult population used communist slogans and bureaucratic arrangements to teach people to “speak and think in the ways the communist project required,” according to Irina Glushenko, a scholar at the Institute of Cultural Studies at the Higher School of Economics.
The readers Soviet activists employed were not intended simply to teach people to read and right but rather to get them to “internalize” the values of the new rulers and thus be able to “speak at meetings, compile protocols, write declarations, complains and then – denunciations,” she says (iq.hse.ru/news/211246994.html).
“A society building socialist industry,” Glushenko says, “needed educated workers,” but the communist government also needed a population which shared a single “correct” way of thinking and even way of expressing itself. Thus, “I” was replaced by “we” and rural themes, the bread and butter of pre-1917 texts, were replaced with urban ones.
The Soviet textbooks reflected “a different cosmos,” the cultural specialist continued. It focused on social conflicts, positive transformations, urban life, and sometimes even geopolitics. Some early readers included lines like “Crimea is the country of Tatars, Romanians are clever and restrained, Ukes [Ukrainians] are quiet and modest.”
Instructors and agitators were told to have their students make short notes and compose declarations. And even when the pupils were working on arithmetic, they were told to use numbers of “accidents in factories in tsarist Russia.” They were also encouraged as early as 1920 to teach by a series of questions and answers and rhymes.
“Soviet citizens had to learn how to make reports and participate in discussions,” Glushenko says. “The liquidation of illiteracy included the formation of public speaking. But, having mastered this rhetoric, the people began to speak not the language of Pushkin and Lermontov or even the language of Plekhanov and Lenin.”
Instead, they spoke a more primitive language, one that cut them off from the past and from the better educated Bolsheviks and made them available for mobilization for the more primitive Stalinists who came in their stead.
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