Power in Peace: The International Youth Festival

The World Youth Festival is, “an event of global youth solidarity for democracy and against war and imperialism” created with the intention, “to bring together young people of both the socialist and capitalist countries to promote peaceful cooperation and mutual rejection of war.” It indeed makes a great deal of sense that in the newfound freedom of life after Stalin, Moscow would be the city to host the 6th World Youth Festival.

At this festival, youth from over 110 countries gathered to share in celebration and advocate for unity among diverse people. The symbol of this event was quite rightly Pablo Picasso’s Dove of Peace (1949) and the artwork could be seen plastered on banners and promotional posters for the event. In their chosen iconography, one can tell how intensely they wished the ideals of peace to be infused with their event.

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Poster for 6th World Youth Festival

Because of reforms instituted by Khrushchev, Russian citizens had the opportunity to offer Moscow as the host location and with this event, they were provided the opportunity to mingle with those from other nations. This can be noted as one of the first massive cultural exchanges post-Stalinist Russia. Everything from music to ideals were discussed between foreigners and friendships bloomed. The festival was an optimistic grasp at a future without war and without destruction (source).

Almost in a childlike manner, the preparation for this event filled many with glee:

“They want to greet their honored guests to the best of their ability and make the meeting with them bright, unforgettable and beautiful, so that it will be remembered for many years.”

After the darkness that had ruled over the lives of Soviet citizens and the horrors they had observed through warfare, this seemed like the end to a darkened tunnel. The future Soviet’s envisioned was not only full of the futuristic technological advancements, it was also one without war and without violence and loss. There is a very sweet optimism that encompasses this gathering. It seemed to be an accumulation of all they had hoped for but never dared to speak aloud.

The youth for whom this event transpired were the most keen of all observers. Forming committees to prepare and educating themselves on the cultures of other attendees, they awaited the huge event. Outside of educating themselves and creating gifts for visitors, “the artistic circles, whose ranks have been swelled with new young artists, have become more active. The young artists rehearse festival songs, dances and games at the clubs in the evening.” A jolly event was in the minds and hearts of everyone involved (source).

Overall, the intention of this event and the massive size of its gathering was a turning point for the Soviet Union. For the first time in memory, foreigners were allowed into the country and to mingle with Russian citizens. Western capitalism and Soviet communism met not to bear arms but rather to link them. After the times of hardship had passed, this was the preparation to move forward and never look back. But this was also the event which perhaps played a role in the puncturing of this hopeful peace. With this exposure to the rest of the world, young Russians became aware of what they lacked. The quality of life in other nations differed from their own, this they could now see. And as the youth embraced this display of human freedom, the truth of their country’s past would soon cloud that pure hope. The promise of new freedom and a future of companionship would not match their reality. As the Cold War continues, this vision of peace will come to an end.

 

EDIT: http://time.com/4176199/soviet-youth-summer-photos-bill-eppridge/ Interesting article with great visual resources!

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Evtushenko: The Part The Poet Played.

On this March 6th, a radio announcer begins, “Dearest Comrades and friends.” He begins knowing that the lives of all those who listened were about to be changed forever. And those poets who listened would somehow know their art could never be the same.

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The Death of Joseph Stalin

The relationship between the Soviet citizens and Stalin is one of intrigue. Stalin was, on one hand, a horrific leader who destroyed the lives and families of so many. On the other hand, he propelled the Soviet Union into a modernized society and had fostered between himself and the citizens a strong and personal tie: he was their provider, the successor of Lenin. He would bring forward the new era of socialism: a utopia. When he died, the state mourned his loss as they would a father. An eye-witness to the funeral, Evgenii Evtushenko, testified that “a sort of general paralysis came over the country.” His casket was something people sought out, they were desperate to see it, see him. People flooded the streets to catch a glimpse. To gain what, I suppose, would be confirmation that this leader was truly dead.

Evtushenko, the aforementioned eye-witness, was a Russian poet who would come to play a role in the de-Stalinization movement. Capitalizing on his fame and the freedom granted by the “Thaw,” he would write about the uncertainty, the abuse, and the ugliness that had been fostered by the Soviet climate. It was in the madness of this massacre in the procession of Stalin that he had a stark realization which would shape his life:

“I realized that there was no one to do our thinking for us now, if indeed there ever had been. I realized that we needed now to do some hard thinking… A feeling of responsibility, not only for myself but for our whole country, came upon me and I felt its crushing weight on my shoulders. I don’t mean that I instantly became aware of the full measure of Stalin’s guilt. I still continued to idealize him to some extent. Many of Stalin’s crimes were as yet unknown. One thing was clear to me — that a great number of problems had come to a head in Russia and to opt out of trying to solve them would itself be criminal. So I thought about poetry — both my own and Russian poetry in general.” (source.)

Before discussing the nature of Evtushenko’s poetry, it is important to understand the role literary artists played in the existing Russian culture. Similar to the expectations of cinematic art, literature was designed and expected to fit the narrative of the state. The historical themes of Russian poetry have strong ties to sympathetic views of the peasantry and the disavowment of corrupt political powers.

“Russian literature has traditionally been intertwined with politics, and often marked by a hostility toward authority and strong sympathy for the common people.” (source.)

Under Stalin’s Soviet State, however, there was his fear of the influence writers may have on the people and so it was declared in a court ruling that, “Any preaching of ideological emptiness, of an apolitical attitude, of ‘art for art’s sake,’ is foreign to Soviet literature, (and) harmful to the interests of the Soviet people and State.” (Source.) And it was in this moment that poetry became its own source of rebellion. To write about the downfalls of Soviet society and the horrific things which occurred during the Second World War was to play a part in this tradition. But how Evtushenko contributed mirrors much more of a tightrope walk than a full free-fall.

 

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“No, I’ll No Take Half”

 

After the death of Stalin and in the chaos of his funeral procession, Evtushenko feels both moved by the craving to write poetry about this horror and unworthy of contributing to the narrative. But, as he reflected, he explained: “the great Russian poets came to my help, their example making me believe that civic poetry can be more intimately lyrical than any other if it is written with single-minded generosity.” And so he wrote. As the truth about Stalin’s reign was exposed and prisoners of the various camps returned home, Evtushenko felt confronted with the ugliness of the lie. Although he had been a noteworthy writer prior to witnessing this event, this inspired him to become an active writer during “The Thaw.” Paying homage to the massacre of the Jews in Kiev with his poem “Babiyy Yar” and calling out the government, begging them to disavow the legacy of Stalin in Nasledniki Stalina (The Heirs of Stalin), Evtushenko took delicate topics and made them bold and unforgettably haunting.

In a New York Times article written about his death, the journalist describes Evtushenko: “He was the best known of a small group of rebel poets and writers who brought hope to a young generation with poetry that took on totalitarian leaders, ideological zealots and timid bureaucrats.”  But Evtushenko played an interesting role in his method of rebellion. Unlike other writers who were exiled due to their poetry, Evtushenko managed to appeal to both the citizens of repression and the state itself. Because of this, “he enjoyed a measure of official approval that more daring dissidents came to resent.” (source.) But let this not unmove you from the contributions he gave to the cause. Evtushenko wrote about topics that most people shied away from. The uncertainty of the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death? Evtushenko wrote about it in his narrative poem titled “Zima Junction.” He boldly went where others feared and did so in a way which ensured his safety without failing to drive home the point of his prose.

He led a career marked by controversy on both sides but the influence of his words cannot be discounted. Evtushenko played a careful role in the gray area between appeasing the political powers that may be and calling out the horrors and toxic potential of Soviet development. For this, he must be thanked. He bridged the gap between the truth and the deception and because of this, he must always be remembered.

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Evgenii Evtushenko

 

The Heroic Myth of Pavlik Morozov

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Imagine you were born in an era where loyalty to the state was more important than one’s loyalty to their family. Imagine if any word you spoke carried with it the burden of danger, potential incrimination. This is the era from which the young Soviet martyr’s story emerged. Pavliv Morozov was a thirteen-year-old boy who had heard of his kulak father’s withholding of grain and, knowing this action was against the state, reported his father to authorities. After his father’s arrest, the boy was murdered by his own family members for his denouncement. With his supposed murder came his fame. Soviet press capitalized on this story, spun by local authorities, to create a martyr for the mindset of the state over family. In the 30’s, it is said that, among the youth, “he did inspire awe as a manifestation of supreme commitment to the general good” (source.)

There remains a good deal of speculation regarding the truth of this story. Most of it can be called propaganda; a tragic story of a murder with unknown circumstance or perpetrators twisted to fit the narrative of a state vying for complete control. But the question I have for young Pavlik is not how accurate his story is. Rather, I wish to know how this tale shaped the society it is made for: how did the story of Pavlik alter family relationships and how did the popularity of this tale reflect the culture which both celebrated and feared it?

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Demonizing “Enemies of the State” as “Child Murderers”

The political socialization of children is a key factor in any state’s production of nationalist youth. In the United States, schoolchildren stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In Soviet Russia, students were taught that loyalty to the state came before loyalty to family and this was done using the tale of Pavlik Morozov. Children championed Pavlik as a martyr, saw him as an ideal, and this narrative was strongly supported by the institutions which taught them. In a 1934 interview, Trotsky says that, “no one can possibly deny that the education of Soviet children, too, is propaganda.” What was the goal, though, of this tale? Simply, it was to encourage loyalty to the state above all else.

Family relations because of this changed a good deal. With a simple slip of the tongue, a muttered phrase at the dinner table, or a snide remark in passing, heard by the wrong person, it could mean imprisonment or even death. This level of risk and fear created a tight-lipped family environment where parents feared any possible incrimination that may come from their own children. The change from family loyalty to state loyalty was fostered in the education system where, “rather than attach themselves most strongly to their families, Soviet children were taught to prioritize Communism above all” (source.) Thus, the story of the brave Pavlik resonated strongly. He was the ideal, a hero, a legend come true. (source.)

But what the state lacks that only family can provide is the development of a loving and familial environment. Trotsky was once asked “Does the Soviet State turn men into robots?” and while he answered in a context of industry, I wonder if perhaps this automatonic transformation occurs much sooner than when a man reaches working age. Is it born in the tight-lipped smile of a father, fearful to share with his son the fears he has for the future? Or is it born in the pride of a schoolchild, hearing the tale of a brave, state-committed Soviet Pavlik? Where does the human capacity for truth and love end and the makeup of Soviet loyalty begin? And does this love for the state over family alter how human they are, how robotic they can be?

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Morozov’s monument in Sverdlovsk (destroyed). Pioneer deposing oath.

This generation of children was raised by the state, for the state. In most government classes, you discuss the process of political socialization. Perhaps that action in and of itself is that of propgandic spread but where the Soviets differ is their emphasis on the state as a caretaker, as a parent. Our political views are most likely to align with those of our parents. But what happens when you are taught to value state over your family, see it as your real primary caregiver? Your political values are going to align not with the ones who created you but rather the one who reared you. This first generation of brought-up socialists were fed by propaganda and taught to love the always-present eyes of Joseph Stalin.

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Thank you, Comrade Stalin, for our Happy Childhood (1936) 

The Soviet child, raised to love Stalin and the state, is a hallmark of the time. Where parents could not speak freely and children were taught how to think, a generation of revolutionaries failed and a reign of terror was just beginning.

Like Bread, They Rise.

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Gazeta Kopeika 08-09 | May 1916

Born in an era of shortage and turmoil was a revolutionary peasantry, for when once they were well fed, now they lack even their bread. Due to the breakout of the first World War, the economy of the Russian Empire began to falter. Cut off from imports on which the country to heavily relied brought Russia to an incredibly weakened state. While Russia was rich with food resources, the peasantry lacked the imported machinery to truly capitalize upon it. Also relied on was the importation of things like coal, matches, metal for saws and spades and other necessities. Without these, agricultural production suffered dearly and so did those who relied upon it. Lacking proper equipment to farm and having nothing to gain from trading it, necessary supplies of daily life dwindled into non-existence.

Townsfolk are starving, and in winter, cold. People living in rooms in a flat, complete strangers to each other, by general agreement bring all their beds into the kitchen. In the kitchen soup is made once a day. There is a little warmth there beside the natural warmth of several human beings in a small room. There it is possible to sleep.”  – Arthur Ransome 

The political cartoon above dates from May of 1916 and was published in a newspaper known as Gazeta Kopeika to reflect the starvation of an unheard peasant class. In the first image, a family sits around a beautifully set table, surrounded by an extravagant excess of food. They look well-fed and nearly ravenous; ready to devour their meal. The second image, however, shows a family with sunken faces and an empty table. They do not feast nor do they eat at all; their life is one of deprivation and hardship. They live the life of a peasantry devoid of resources necessary to the continuation of a semblance of abundance. In the immediate sense, these people did not have the liberty to livelihood and thus emerges the resentment between these have-nots and those who have too much.

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Novi Satirikon 1916 vol.12 p.10

 

Just as the Russian peasant lacked the access to necessary goods, the bourgeoisie of the same nation engaged in frivolously spending and useless attempts at assisting these classes. Surrounded by a different understanding and experience of life, perhaps it was merely an ignorance that fanned these flames, or perhaps it was a feeling of innate superiority that led to the disparity between these two classes.

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As one may see, though, the disconnect between the lives of the two groups was too vast a gap to be bridged. And the peasants became restless. While they sat, sallow-faced, around a bare table, they remained aware of how the life they lived differed from those of noble blood. Tensions and blood both stewed as 1916 came to pass. It was in February of 1917 that this stew finally boiled over.

Civilisation has made the peasantry its pack animal. The bourgeoisie in the long run only changed the form of the pack. Barely tolerated on the threshold of the national life, the peasant stands essentially outside the threshold of science.” – Leon Trotsky

Merely two months into 1917, the Russian society and government would undergo an alteration that would change the fate of the Empire. This change was triggered by the event known as the February Revolution. This revolution began on International Women’s Day and starred working-class women who could no longer afford to provide food for themselves nor their families. The culprit: the rising prices of bread and its lack of affordability to the peasant class. Over the next few days, underground revolutionaries joined in and soldiers mutinied. Within mere weeks, the tsar had abdicated and the Provisional Government became the watchful eyes over this country in flames.

Almost like watching “The Office,” just when you thought it was bad, things got much worse. Expecting change but with little relief, in late March of 1917, peasants began to burn down the farms of big landlords and seize the crops they had produced. Lack of food resources and other resources needed to survive triggered these huge bouts of unrest. When the tsar had been overthrown, peasants had seen the chance for an agrarian revolution. The chance never came. Throughout the summer, leading up to the event some call “Bloody October,” unrest and tensions even still rose. This new government was failing at providing even the most basic of needs to its citizens. And, thus, on the 25th of October in 1917, the Bolsheviks seized their chance and overthrew the provisional government. The rest, as they say, is history.

The role of the peasantry in this discourse is much indebted to the bourgeoisie. While the peasants suffered and struggled, they found themselves to be gluttonous. It is an act as simple as pouring gasoline on a blazing fire. If the resources were available to manufacture cars, could resources not also be spared for the revitalization of the agricultural class? If food was abundant for some, could those not perhaps be tempted to share some of their portions? Perhaps it was this withholding of life’s necessities that inspired the idea of a Marxist revolution. If in a socialist society the resources would be shared among the masses and no one would be found without. It is the utopia of people who may call themselves those who have and the “have-nots” would be a mere fiction of a painful past.

Sources

Dement, Sidney Eric, and Keah Cunningham. “War and Laughter: Political Cartoons in Russia’s Liberal Press, 1914-1918.” War and Laughter: Political Cartoons in Russia’s Liberal Press, 1914-1918. Accessed February 08, 2018. http://russiasgreatwar.org/media/culture/war_and_laughter.shtml.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “February Revolution.” February Revolution. December 28, 2015. Accessed February 08, 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/february-revolution/.

“The peasantry and the Soviet State (1917-1932): From Class Alliance to Split.” Accessed February 08, 2018. https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ca.secondwave/is-ussr-peasants.htm.

Proletarian Unity No. 23 (vol 5 no 1), January-February-March 1981

Trotsky, Leon. “Chapter 38 The Peasantry Before October.” Leon Trotsky: The History of the Russian Revolution (3.38 The Peasantry Before October). Accessed February 08, 2018. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1930/hrr/ch38.htm.

 

The Generation Gap: The Visualization of Western Influence

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Three Generations, 1910. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03952 (24)

This photograph at first appears simple. After all, it merely depicts three generations of a Russian family.

“A. P. Kalganov poses with his son and granddaughter for a portrait in the industrial town of Zlatoust in the Ural Mountain region of Russia. The son and granddaughter are employed at the Zlatoust Arms Plant—a major supplier of armaments to the Russian military since the early 1800s. Kalganov displays traditional Russian dress and beard styles, while the two younger generations have more Westernized, modern dress and hair styles.”

What significance does this photograph provide? Everyone has a family, this is not a unique concept. However, it is not simply the family but the cultural transition visible in this photograph that makes it unique. The son and granddaughter, names unknown, are visual embodiments of a shifting culture. While the grandfather finds himself quite literally swathed in tradition, in both his clothing and physical appearance, his descending lineage is embracing a more westernized culture. This visual shift and the mention of their occupation in the photographer’s description poses an important question: Was the generational gap that emerged at this time largely influenced by the presence of western-inspired workplaces such as the Zlatoust Arms Plant? And how did this taste of Western influence fare among the older generations and their fierce nationalism?

Based in the metallurgical center of Russia, the Zlatoust Arms Plant was located in the town of Zaltoust, nestled among the Ural Mountains. Facing conflict in the early 19th century with not nearly enough weapon-making factories to meet the demand of gun production, the Zlatoust Arms Plant was built with the intention of carrying on the skill of swordcraft. The factory itself was built on a foundation of Western advice regarding both its practice and its aesthetic design. And it thrived! After struggling to make any noteworthy profits from its opening in 1815, business took a 180 in 1930 and the Zlatoust Arms Plant found itself monopolizing the market. These delicately and masterfully crafted swords became something of a collector’s item. Used as ceremonial gifts with elaborate carvings and gorgeous designs, to own a Zlatoust weapon was to own a piece of art. It was such that this popularity found its roots in a Western style of production that other aspects of Western life began to infiltrate Russian society.

This photograph, taken in 1910, visually exemplifies just how far this infiltration has come. Prokudin-Gorskii notes that the son and granddaughter are employees of the plant; perhaps a trait which sets them apart from the grandfather, in his emerald robes. But perhaps all three of them have once been employed by the plant and it is his age, having come to adulthood in a time where Russian nationalism was so fiercely defended, that he holds onto the tangible affirmations of his devotion to his country. Caught in the turmoil of an always-changing country, the individuals in this photograph do not appear to be poor-off. They are all fully clothed, and despite the slightly sour appearances on their faces, they seem to appear healthy.

 

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Andrei Petrov Kalganov. Former Master in the Plant. Seventy-Two Years Old, Has Worked at the Plant for Fifty-Five Years. He Was Fortunate to Present Bread and Salt* to His Imperial Majesty, the Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II. Zlatoust.

Upon further investigation, the grandfather, identified as Andrei Petrov Kalganov, is no ordinary old man but rather the retired master of the plant, having been in its service for fifty-five years. So how is it that he maintained his loyalty to the traditions of Russia while so engulfed in a western-inspired facility? Is it merely the nationalistic era in which he was raised? Or is the drift towards a more Western style a rebellion of the youth perhaps sparked by unfair work practices?

If this shift can be attributed to a disillusionment with Russian nationalism in favor of the apparent opportunity of the west, it is important to examine the circumstance that would cause such disillusionment. In 1912, merely two years after the photo was taken, there was a large surge of labor unrest triggered by the death of three workers due to injuries caused by machinery. After these deaths, the workers went on strike and demanded that it was their right to have safety precautions while working with machinery and it was their right to be paid a fair wage for the work they did. Nicholas II saw that this strike was ended. Only it did not end in peace but rather in violence and bloodshed. One can only speculate on the thoughts of these workers but perhaps it is the memorable examples of a government’s disinterest in listening to its people that caused the youth to reject their nationalism. And perhaps the difference between the young and the old is the old learned to settle for that they could get, knowing that miles could turn to inches, while the young persisted forward, demanding that inches become miles. After all, progress is progress but people tend to prefer it works quickly.

This photograph appears simple on the surface, this is certain. But the underlying implications of such a photo cannot be ignored. While it raises more questions than it will ever definitively answer, it is worth pondering the way in which Russia progresses: the love and hate relationship with the West and the generational gap that emerges from the turmoil. For now, it surely seems that progressive action is a game for the youth and those bold enough to roll the die.

 

*The presentation of bread and salt is a Russian custom which expresses hospitality.

Sources

AGAT Factory. “Zlatoust.” Accessed January 17, 2018. http://www.agatfactory.de/about/zlatoust

Library of Congress: World Digital Library. “Andrei Petrov Kalganov. Former Master in the Plant. Seventy-Two Years Old, Has Worked at the Plant for Fifty-Five Years. He Was Fortunate to Present Bread and Salt to His Imperial Majesty, the Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II. Zlatoust.” Last updated September 28, 2016. https://www.wdl.org/en/item/5292/

Marxist International Archive. “Metalworkers’ Strikes in 1912.” Published August 24, September 18, and October 25, 1913. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1913/oct/25.htm

Vershinin, Alexander. Russia Beyond. “Zlatoust: The cutting edge of Russia’s steel arms production.” Published July 6, 2015. https://www.rbth.com/defence/2015/07/06/zlatoust_the_cutting_edge_of_russias_steel_arms_production_47503.html