Copyright © 1957 Lithuanian Students Association, Inc.
June, 1957 No.2(11)
Managing Editor P. V. Vygantas
STEPCHILDREN OF COMMUNISM
Rimvydas Đilbajoris, B. A. in English, Antioch College, 1953; M. A. in Russian and Certificate of the Russian Institute, Columbia University, 1955. At present Assistant to the Editor of the "American Slavic and East European Review."
The self-portrait of Communism represents a large, brave, happy family, marching confidently and relentlessly toward the dream that is to be made to come true. There are, of course, dark spots in the picture — the "shortcomings" of which the Soviet press likes to speak after having first assured its readers that when all is said and done things are going very well indeed. Then follows an ominous "however," and we learn that the cattle on a collective farm have starved to death; that a citizen's house has been torn down, on orders from local authorities, because of a legal formality; that a district Communist Party secretary has disrupted the elections to the prst of chairman of a rural Soviet because his own candidate was being defeated, etc., etc.
Furthermore, we learn that not all the members of the "great Soviet family" feel that they really be'ong in it. Ironically, a very conspicuous place among such "misfits" is occupied by some members of the younger generation — the future inheritors of the Soviet state. Showing no interest in the heritage of the Bolshevik revolution, deprived of other means of socially and politically approved relf-expression, they seem to be the black sheep in Soviet society — the stepchildren of Communism.
For a Soviet explanation of why these young men and women have fallen out of step with the "march of history," we may turn to the decree on ideological training of youth, issued in 1957 by the Central Committee of the Young Communist League (Komsomol). It says in part:
...it must not be forgotten that the present younger generation did not pass through the severe school of revolutionary struggle and tempering, did not experience those privations and difficulties which fell to the lot of the older generation — our fathers, mothers, and older brothers. It is no accident, therefore, that some young people have little idea of the blood and sweat, the price that had to be paid for the conditions in which they live today; they think that things were always like this, that they are to be taken for granted, and sometimes do not appreciate the great achievements of the Soviet peoples. Some young men and women have a tendency to live at the expense of others. While well aware of their rights, they forget about their duties to society, demand much from the state but give it little.1
Such an explanation could be accepted only if we were to agree with the underlying premise that the Soviet Union has indeed achieved a fairly high living standard. Then one could understand how the younger generation, having lost the mentality of revolutionary struggle, would be much more interested in enjoying the fruits of the "blood and sweat" of their fathers. However, there is much evidence to show that, on the contrary, living standards, in spite of all the promises and in spite (or perhaps because) of the tremendous growth of heavy industry, have failed to rise sufficiently, and that the shiftless and cynical attitude of the younger generation may in itself be a protest and an accusation against the state that has exacted sacrifices and total submission for the sake of a Utopia that never came true.
One of the most common manifestations of the refusal cf the younger generation in the Soviet Union to conform to the officially established ideal of the ' new Soviet man" is juvenile delinquency, or, as it is called by the Soviets themselves, petty hooliganism. The fourth (and last) page of most So iet newspapers is usually reserved for foreign news, sports, and small press items headed "From thj Courtroom" or "Incidents." These are made up of the kind of news that usually dominates the h:adlines in the American press: murder, theft, robbery, etc. Very often the criminals are quite young — in their teens; and they are of both sexes. Most frequently the young people do not eo beyond drinking, disturbing the peace in public places and getting into fistfights among themselves. However, such rowdyism has become so widespread that the government has seen the need to issue a special decree on petty hooliganism, fixing penalties at anywhere from ten days at hard labor to three and more years in prison. An extralegal penalty, not officially regarded as penalty, is the "voluntary" resettlement of young men and women in Siberia and the virgin lands in Kazakhstan and other Asian areas, where mass land-cultivation projects are being carried out.
Much more serious manifestations of delinquency, often reported not on the fourth page but in special feature articles that are written in a tone that betrays fear as much as indignation, are the major crimes committed by Soviet adolescents. Sometimes such crimes seem to result from sheer boredom. On March 10, 1957, Communist of Tadzhikistan, the Russian-language Communist Party and government organ for the Tadzhik Republic, in Central Asia, reported the following incident:
Voloshin, the killer, who was born in 1938, received an 18-year sentence in a "corrective labor camp," as the concentration camps are referred to in the Soviet press. The other criminals were of a":ou>; the same age.
In this particular instance, the author of the report placed the main responsibility/ on the parents of the delinquent children; they had been guilty of too much "blind" parental love, and would not believe that their dear little boys not only had stopped going to school but were associating with known idlers and criminals. The schools and the Young Communist League also come in for sharp criticism. In most such cases the specific criticism of the Young Communist League is that its members have neglected those young people who do not belong to it, considering their behavior to be their own affair and that of their parents. The Communist state, however, insists that where "socialist morality" is concerned, there is no such thing as a private matter, and that the state and its unofficial representatives, such as the Young Communist League, have the full right to step into other peoples' private lives "for their own good."
It is also interesting to note that the state itself has taken special measures to stop the spread of major juvenile crimes. Aside from the usual po'ice (militia) work, attempts have been made to cut off at the source sport goods that might prove dangerous in the hands of young people. For instance, the Supreme Soviet (theoretically the highest legislative and executive body of a Soviet republic) of the Azerbaidzhan Republic has issued a decree forbidding the "manufacture, possession, sale and carrying of daggers, Finnish (hunting) knives and similar cold-steel weapons without proper authorization," the penalty being "deprivation of freedom for up to five years and confiscation of the weapon."3 At the same time, special "brigades for cooperation with the militia" have been set up throughout the Soviet Union, consisting ostensibly of volunteers who wish to help enforce the law. According to one report, the number of such volunteers in the city of Leningrad is as high as 100,000.
The Soviets, of course, are quick to point out that in the Western countries, especially the U.S.A., young people do not behave very much better, and that incidents similar to the one cited above, or worse ones, can be just as easily selected from the pages of American newspapers. However, such an argument only points to the failure of the Communist social experiment (if it can be called that). Whi'e in the West young people, except for having to observe the law and commonly accepted moral standards, are not expected by the state to have any specific set of political or social ideals, such matters being left in the hands of the family and various social organizations, the Soviet Union has c'aimed and is still claiming that it is creating and to a considerable extent has already created the "new Soviet man" — a morally superior being, un-contaminated by the "putrid ideology of the capitalist bourgeoisie." This new man, however, seems to be very similar indeed to the old bourgeois man, sharing his human weaknesses, including his propensity for crime. Having claimed superior status for itself, Communism should have proved its right to it by achieving superior results, for without them it has no special reason for existence. It has failed to achieve these results, and yet it has shed human blood, which now stains the hands of the Soviet rulers and testifies to the fact that no man has the right to take away another man's freedom for the sake of an ideological abstraction.
The disaffection of the younger Soviet generation a'so manifests itself in other ways, which are to some extent of an ideological nature. Under Stalin's rule Soviet intellectuals, young and old. oid not expect to be allowed to offer any personal reinterpretations of Communist doctrine, but after Khrushchev gave free reign to his oratorical talents in the now-famous speech against Stalin, some people in the Soviet Union seem to have drawn the conclusion that they, too, could now speak ut>. ^bii was a serious mistake, as can be seen from the frequent and sometim°s threatening reasser-tions of the supremacy of the Communist Partv in all spheres of cultural, polit'cal and intellectual life. At first some Soviet writers tried, whi'e affirm!1"1 their Communist allegiance, to hint at some of the r" ost obvious monstrosities of the regime. Soon thereafter writers' congresses were convened in all 'h-1 Soviet republics, at which, in the grand old Sta'inist style, public confessions of ideological in-adeauacy and militant declarations of conformity to the demands of the Communist Party were the order of the dav. Similar repressions took place in other spheres of Soviet life.
The Central Committee of the Young Communist League, in the decree referred to above, recognized the existence of ideological deviations among the young people in the following fashion:
...Y.C.L. organizations frequently do not conduct an offensive struggle against the intrigues of bourgeois ideology, do a poor job of exposing anti-Soviet, provocational rumors and provocations and poorly train young psople in a spirit of Bolshevist vigilance. Sometimes the proper rebuff is not given to nihi'istic and other unhealthy manifestations by individual young men and wcmen and above all by students who have not been able profoundly and correctly to understand the essence and importance of the Party's work to eliminate the shortcomings caused by the cult of the individual.4
It is curious that it should be "above all" the students, persons with a degree of intellectual training and competence, who should fail, as the decree implies, to understand what the Communist Party is really aiming at. If we ccmpare these students with the young men who headed the popular uprising in Hungary, the conclusion suggests itse f that this is not a matter of failure to "understand," for the young Hungarians did understand the aims of Communism and rejected them. The young men in the Soviet Union are not ready to rise in revolt, but they do demand that the Soviet rulers give them some real freedoms instead of talking about them. They are not a mass of hungry workers who at the time of the revolution ran after anyone who shouted "Bread!" Their starvation is now spiritual, and the Communist doctrine can no longer satisfy their hunger. As soon as the Communist Party slips up and forgets to rehearse carefully any public discussions on ideological themes, some young people immediately come forward and try to utter what they have been long and secretly thinking. For example on March 26, Pravda reported the following incident, in an article calling for greater indoctrination efforts by Communist teachers:
The following example shows the results of formalism in bringing up young people. A discussion of representational art was held at the Odessa Polytecbnical Institute, ard some of the participants came out with attacks against socialist realism. It turned out that the large teaching staff, which includes more than 100 Communists, had no part in preparing for and conducting the discussion.5
There are other manifestations of ideological dissatisfaction, some of which have been even reported in the American press.
The ideological "thaw" has made it possible for more young Soviet people to come into contact with Western ideas and social and cultural habits. To judge by reports of Americans who have recently travelled in the Soviet Union, and by angry attacks on Radio Free Europe in the Communist press, a rather large number of young men and women are listening to Radio Free Europe and learning all about the latest jazz, clothing fads and other Western cultural manifestations of f> more superficial sort. There is even a clearly recognizable group of Soviet young people who ardently imitate everything Western, and especially American, in their dress, social behavior, etc. The Communists make considerable efforts to identify (h3S2 "zoot-suiters" (or stilyagi, as the Russians call th-m> with juvenile delinquents, trying to draw the moral that any Western influence is by definition a morally depraving one. Unfortunately, here again they are not entirely wrong. The zoot-suiters do indeed seem to have little or no moral consciousness, and they seem to have accepted the Communist declarations that the West is "decadent" and, moreover, to enjoy being accordingly decadent themselves. Loud, tasteless clothing, wild drinking parties, complete social irresponsibility often characterize those Soviet young people who are most outspoken in their admiration of the West. At the same time, one must remember that what in the United States may seem like a bit of harmless fun (jitterbug dancing, for instance) in the highly repressive and old-maidishly conservative Soviet society creates the impression of scandalous behavior. This circumstance should be taken into account when radi3 programs for beaming to the East are being prepared. It would be naive to assume that, with Communism out of the way, a full and harmonious understanding between the East and the West will follow automatically. The cultural gulf is too great to be so easily bridged, and great care must be exercised in any attempt to communicate with the young people behind the Iron Curtain.
Finally, there is still another group of step-chi'drjn of Communism — the quiet, honest and submissive young people who may be aware to a larger or smaller extent that their Soviet state has many dark closets but who, ostrichlike, prefer to keep their heads in the sand. An American college student who visited the Soviet Union has reported a conversation with a young woman schoolteacher a": out freedom and democracy in the East and the West. At first the teacher tried to argue for the official Communist noint of view, but she soon broke down under a re'entless barrage of facts from "outer world." some of which she heard for the first time. Then the American student was shocked and surprised to hear her say: "A1 right, you may be right, the truth may be on your side! But tell me, what good is your truth to me? How is it going to help me get a better salary, the confidence of my friends and peace of mind?"
This group of "little people who didn't know," just as so many Germans now say they didn't know, may well be the largest in the Soviet Union today, and their fate is perhaps the most tragic. They are not zombies, for they do realize that it is possible to think in non-Communist terms. However, by refusing to da so for reasons of personal security, they are committing spiritual suicide. And yet, the really sad thing is that anyone who has had any experience with tyranny knows how hard it would be to accuse them of moral cowardice. There were many Americans who felt indignant about the events in Hungary but who at the same time did not have the strength to contemplate active interference at the risk of atomic warfare that would destroy their comfortable homes. The young Russian teacher who did not want to hear the truth felt very much the same way.
Even such a passive attitude toward the Soviet state and its goals is too dangerous for the Communist rulers to tolerate. A totalitarian regime can continue to command the loyalty of its subjects only if it can maintain for a prolonged period of time a feeling of exhilaration, of breathless movement forward, of new achievements. Dynamic attitude toward life has always been a cornerstone of Soviet propaganda, and the Party-controlled press has consistently maintained a heroic pose in its descriptions of life In the country. Milkmaids, apartment house superintendents, hydroelectric station builders, soldiers and Party officials — all have been depicted in a golden glow of enthusiasm, th-ir strong arms outstretched toward Communism. In accordance with the precepts of what is called "socialist realism" in art, Soviet sculptors have populated the countryside with marble and stone statues of "heroes of socialist labor." tense bodies leaning forward in the wind, faces expressing invincible determination. However, as the years went on and the Communist Utopia became increasingly remote and abstract while the sacrifices and horrors of dictatorship remained very real indeed, the whole "revolutionary movement of the masses" gradually came to resemble these dead statues, frozen in heroic attitudes, unable to take a single step forward. The living people in the Soviet Union today walk about In this "forest of symbols" like Indifferent strangers who have lost all interest in the mythology of "socialist revolution."
Not surprisingly, therefore, the Soviet leaders make tremendous efforts to revive this mythology. The cultivation of virgin lands in Central Asia and Siberia on a gigantic scale may be a desperate measure to stave off a potentially disastrous shortage of food supply, but it is depicted as a new Soviet victory, and the young people are being fervently invited to take part in it. If the Party leaders could win a large-scale engagement of the younger generation in the "construction projects of socialism," as to some extent they were able to do in the early days of the five-year plans, much of the disillusionment with the regime might vanish, if for no other reason than because the young men and women would be too busy to engage in much critical thinking. Many of them, with the assistance of Young Communist League and local agencies of government, have actually been sent to the virgin land areas. Soviet newspapers often carry news items about fresh arrivals of young people from Moscow, Leningrad or the national republics to various state farms or hydroelectric construction sites in the Far East or Central Asia. However, evidence can be found in the same Soviet press suggesting that living and working conditions in these areas make them seem like places of hard exile, in spite of all attempts to glamorize them. Several months ago an article in Pravda, the official Communist Party newspaper, entitled "When the Band Stops Playing," described the miserable conditions found by the "builders of Communism" once they arrived at their destfna-tion. They are met with band music and lengthy speeches and much official enthusiasm, but then they are sent to live in cold, often only partially finished dormitories without electricity or other conveniences. At work they are not given any of th,: promised special training in building skills — an official of the construction project explained that once they have learned how to carry bricks, there is no need for them to learn anything more. In their free time they are tortured by boredom, for such remote areas as many of the construction projects are located in, can offer nothing in the way of entertainment, and the local authorities cannot work up enough energy even to provide the young people with books, musical instruments or tilm projectors. It is not hard to imagine what "enthusiasm" this statu of ttairgs creates among these workers. If any of them ever had any romantic feelings about conquering the wilderness for Communism, they are quickly eroded by insidious boredom, cold Arctic winds, or burning Central Asian sun.
Another means of struggle against the disaffection of youth consists of attempts to give the young people a sense of power and importance in the Soviet scheme of things. The Soviet educator Makarenko achieved considerable success in the past with his labor camps for homeless adolescents who, in the times of famine and extreme deprivation following the forced collectivization of the countryside and the destruction of private business in the cities, were making their living by theft and robbery. An interesting feature of his program was that the best inmates of those labor camps were brought up to serve in the Cheka — the Soviet secret police.
Today the young people are not drafted into the secret police, but nevertheless they are often offered extralegal positions of authority as members of the "brigades for cooperation with the militia," conducting raids on saloons or public parks, picking up drunkards and hooligans. The main role in the organization of such brigades is played by the Young Communist League, whose members thus obtain privileged status as auxiliaries of tha regime. The power they are able to wield sometimes may seem rather fantastic to a person not familiar with Soviet mentality and values. For instance, a Young Communist League brigade for traffic control has been organized in the oil city of Baku, and its members have been given full powers to stop any car and check the documents of the driver. One may well imagin the reaction of New Yorkers if a troop of Rover Scouts were to start stopping cars on Broadway and demanding identif.cation papers! The primary task of the "toy policemen" in Baku is to make sure that official vehicles are not used for private purposes. However, in exercising their prerogatives these young men often go far beyond that. Once a patrol of their brigade stopped the official vehicle of a factory director, who was taking his daughter to school in it. After a heated conversation, these adolescents had the nerve to tell the man — a member of the new Soviet ruling class — that they would not allow him to spoil his child!
Often, however, even such attempts to make the young people identify themselves with the regime misfire, because those of them who are supposed to help maintain public order are often not very different from the hooligans they are called on to restrain. The official organ of the Lithuanian Young Communist League organization, Komjaunimo Tiesa (Young Communist League Truth), reported on March 27, 1957, the following episode:
people — steady customers of the dancing halls — are turning cheerfully
to the tune of a waltz. Many of them smell of alcohol. Right there, in
the same hall, the adolescents puff on their cigarettes, emitting
sophisticated streams of smoke.
"Who are they?" you ask with astonishment, turning to Comrade Rakauskas, chairman of the club Soviet, who stands there, calmly watching the scene.
"They are pupils in the Second Gogol High School... They, so to speak, are enjoying their leisure time...
"And why don't you introduce order in your club?"
"What do you mean, there is no order? Only those are permitted to enter who have tickets. And here, even the Young Communist League patrol is helping us..." Comrade Rakauskas points to a group of young people smoking by the stove, with armbands around their sleeves.6
It also happens that the patrols fail to do their jobs because they are afraid of the hooligans. A cartoon in Krokodil (Crocodile), the Soviet humor magazine, once depicted a large number of elephants, runing away in terror from two drunken rabbits who were pulling their tails. There was also a press report describing how a small gang of juvenile hoodlums in a rural area was able to terrorize the whole village, including the collective farm chairman and the local militia chief. No one dared to stand up to them, and when a few young men from Moscow did so, they were cut up with knives.
Aside from these attempted countermeasures, there are signs that the Soviet are seriously worried about the youth problem, and that they often do not quite know what to do about it. From time to time the newspapers of all the republics, as well as the central press, engage in a rather disorganized discussion as to who is responsible for the unfitting behavior of the juveniles. One such discussion took place in the pages of Tiesa (Truth) — the official organ of the Lithuanian Communist Party Central Committee and the government. Most cf those who contributed their opinions on the problem were either parents or teachers.
First of all, it can be seen from the discussion that much of the burden of guilt for the loose lehavior of the younger generation is laid upon the parents themselves. An article by V. Rinkevi-čiis, a functionary in the Lithuanian Republic S.ate Frosecutor's Office, defined the parents' du-ti:s toward their children in the following fashion:
The duty of the parents is to develop good habits and standards of behavior in the adolescent, consciously to form his character, implant in him the principles of Communist mcrality and show him the true path of life by means of daily reminders, instructions, explanations and by good example.7
However — and this is a point we have already referred to above — in the writer's opinion the parents fail in their duties toward their children by being too "soft" on them:
There still are a good many parents whose whole educational efforts consist merely of spoiling the child. Already from a very early age such parents try to satisfy every desire and whim of their child... In such an education, any reasonable orders to the child are replaced by pleas addressed to the child, or by efforts to persuade him, although in the child's early age such persuasion is entirely incomprehensible to him. In this way the egoism of the child is being developed, and there is no chance to form a good character., s
What is worse, the same author points out, is that often the parents expect the state itself to do the whole job of educating their children, absolving them of all responsibility
There are also
parents who prefer to turn to the organs of justice, thinking that it
is the job of the militia or of the prosecutor's office to re-educate
"Take my son and send him to a children's educational colony," demands a mother. "He runs away from home, and he steals."
"But you are the mother," one reminds her.
"But what can I do if he does not listen to me!" shouts the woman. "I'm warning you — if you don't shut him up in a children's colony, he is going to commit a crime. You will be responsible for this!"9
Other writers accuse the parents not only of softness but also of dissolute behavior on their own part, which cannot help but give the children a bad example. There is a curiously ironic note in these ccmplaints, for it was the state itself that "educated" the parents never to make any independent decisions in their own lives, always submitting to 1h~ "guidance" of the Communist Party and its various arms — from governmental agencies to the mi'itia and the secret police. This has been especially true with respect to the education of children, for the Communist state has alwavs mistrusted the parents because of their "bourgeois furviva's" and has tried to influence the children Hirectlv, independently of what they may have ben taught to do and believe at home. The chi'dren's colony — an institution first brought to life by Makarenko — actually amounts to a sort of mild concentration camp, where the children work, play and listen to Communist indoctrination under close supervision of people either belonging to or appointed by the Communist Party, and awav from any influence of the parents. Apparently the Communist rulers themselves finally realized what a dismal prospect it would be to deprive all the families of their children and to introduce the children to the Soviet way of life through the gates of the children's concentration camp.
Besides parents, teachers also are accused of failing to do their job. In Lithuania, which lived an independent life between the two world wars, most of the intellectuals, and conseouently most of the school teachers, were educated and had their values formed in a tradition far removed from the Communist mentality. Some of these teachers tried to resist Communist pressure and were suppressed, and others simply surrendered to a hopeless, cynical existence, fulfilling their duties as teachers on'y formally and refusing all responsibility for the behavior of the children, since in their opinion they have never been entrusted with their education, being supposed to serve merely as soulless mouthpieces of the Party. And it is these morally and spiritually broken men that the Soviet state new accuses of not doing what they were never trusted to do. Some of the descriptions of how such harrassed teachers behave bear the stamp of a truly Dostoyevskian tragic mockery. A. Staiđiűnas, a student at Vilnius State University, gives the followirg example:
Once, about eight o'clock in the evening, a citizen staggered up to a woman who, with her child, was sitting in one of the bar and grill establishments in Vilnius and eating her supper, and asked her to leave the grill, for he, as an educator, could not bear to see children of school age in the bar and grill. The woman calmly finished eating and left, while the "pedagogue" remained, drunkenlv arguing with his friends about — education!i!10
In search for those responsible for the sad sta*e of juvenile morality, accusations are levelled at Party men who do not understand their tasks, at the state liquor enterprises, which apparently are doing much too good a job of providing places where one can buy and drink hard liquors, and, finally, at all grownups, because they fail to stop and admonish rowdy or noisy children in the streets, public parks, etc.
is not to be expected that in their frantic search for the causes of
juvenile delinquency and indifference, or even half-suppressed
hostility, to the regime the Soviet rulers should ever publicly point
at themselves as the true culprits. And yet it is a pity, both for the
sake of the younger Soviet feneration and of all mankind, that they
should strive to maintain themselves and their regime in power by
shifting the responsibility on all those whose lives they themselves
have distorted. After the recent denunciations of Stalin, the Soviet
ru'ers began with redoubled enthusiasm pointing at Lenin as the true
symbol of militant Communism. Yet it was Lenin himself who advocated
the phi'osophy that mankind can make progress only if a group of
devoted high priests of socialism, "who know better," takes over the
control of the masses and leads or pushes them, as the case may be,
toward the goals that they think mankind should strive for. Considering
living human beings as a kind of biological subject matter, available
for experimentation and deliberate change, they took upon themselves
the staggering responsibility of thinking, feeling and acting for
millions, or rather, most of the time, in spite of them. The behavior
of the younger Soviet generation is merely another proof that it is
impossible and, moreover, immoral to attempt to dictate what the
"conditioned reflexes" of mankind should be. Cramped in the narrow
framework of Communist dogma, the human souls in the Soviet refuse to
be molded by it, and react to its pressure by violent and sometimes
even perverse convulsions ranging all the way from passive and active
resistance through cynicism to crime.