LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 31, No.1 - Spring 1985
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1985 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
THE NEW SOVIET CHILD
The "soviet man" fostered in communist dominated countries is a man having qualities of soviet country, government or structure.1 But the literary definition of the term, soviet, implies council. This word was fatefully used by Lenin at the beginning of the Russian revolution of 1917. The Soviets of Russian soldiers, workers and peasants originated spontaneously and expressed the mood and sentiments, if not public opinion, of large masses of the people while the czarist government crumbled to pieces. Though they were not organized by the Bolshevik party Lenin seized the opportunity to use them for the advancement of his cause and proclaimed: "All power to the Soviets." However, once the party felt itself firmly in the governmental saddle the clashing purposes of the Soviets and the party came into the open. The totalitarian power of the party controlled by professional revolutionaries could not tolerate any rivals or sharing power. Consequently, the Bolshevik party crushed the Kronstadt rebellion and the remaining independent Soviets became the pawns of the party.2 Thus the so-called "soviet man" or the new "soviet man" hardly has any connection with the original members of the Soviets.
Today, the term soviet man is defined by "socialist realism", the philosophy of the Soviet Union which is imposed on all art. Accordingly, the ideal soviet man is permeated with the principles of partyism, which is a conscious measuring of reality in terms of class struggle, ideation 'ideinost' which is a belief in the righteousness and ultimate victory of communism by any means, and populism, or folkishness, i.e., taking into consideration the interests of folk, ordinary, or little people.
The new soviet man did not have precursors to emulate. Nor could he have socializing experiences in soviet childhood or adolescence. The soviet man originated as an ideological construct with revolutionary qualities as perceived by Lenin and other communist writers. But after a few generations grew up under communism a new child should appear who incorporates the representative qualities of the ideal soviet child. (Like father, like son.)
The basic purpose of this article is to discover and clarify the salient features of the soviet child as he is created and fostered by the Lithuanian writers under the communist rule. This paper does not deal with observations of actual soviet children. This type of research is not tolerated by the suspecting communist regime. Therefore, a different methodology has been used to uncover the image of the soviet child. And it is only indirectly that we come to the question of how the ideal model of the soviet child reflects reality and whether that model is an effective instrument in the socialization plans of communist society.
The method used in this study was content analysis. Literary sources were supplemented by critical reviews from behind the Iron Curtain and from this side of it. The author has perused more than 175 books or booklets as well as many issues of periodicals pertaining to pre-school and
lower-, middle- or upper-school levels. The sources range from the mid-forties to the seventies. Though the author has not been able to check all the sources of children's publications, the conclusions of this study should be considered as representing all the sources because all writers since World War II, guided by the philosophy of socialist realism, have uniformly and rigidly incorporated this philosophy in their depiction of the soviet child. It is hard to imagine any pieces of literature which would have escaped customary censorship and contained real deviations from the norm.
First of all, the soviet child depicted in literature appears to have the traditional characteristics of children worldwide. A "good child" is obedient, diligent, properly dressed, clean, loving of nature, attends classes as scheduled, prepares homework, achieves good marks, and has human and animal friends. The only difference is found in the degree the soviet child is expected to show obedience to authorities, be it father, teacher or governmental authorities. That degree is much higher there than experienced in the West.
"Mano pirmoji zoologija" (My First Zoology) by Čerušinas is a good example of how respect and authoritative persons are valued in communist society. It is written for the pre-school level with appropriate descriptions of domesticated and wild animals except for the description of a horse. Following is a direct translation from the story which describes the horse:
"He grows in the kolkhoz, saves his strength: he is being cleaned and prepared for the new landlord. The new landlord will be good: he is commander of our army. This horse, of course, cannot drag vehicles, pull wheels. Such a horse is destined to meet the enemy carrying on his withers the commander in front of all."3
Z. Ergle tells a story about an ex-air force colonel Vorobjovas:
"Whenever the colonel appears in the yard all boys stand at attention and greet him."4
"Even his son leaves the room "on his tiptoes."5
A. Matutis describes a group of children traveling on a countryside and meeting an ex-commando. After the stranger told about his military exploits the children standing at attention asked his permission to leave.6
In general, military men are considered as qualified for any job such as chairman of any institution, teachers and the like. Obedience is inculcated in children and is part and parcel of all authoritarian regimes. Students of soviet society may concur that children's obedience found in literary works may correspond to the reality of living under the communist regime.7
In addition to these traditional qualities of children described in soviet literature, the soviet child has unique features. These features embody elements incorporated in the construct of the soviet man. Three of these features include: (1) participation in class struggle which means debunking real or alleged exploiters, (2) participation in communist activities which means belonging to communist organizations, and (3) promulgating the concept of populism which means extolling the virtues and environmental images of "toiling people".
Following the stereotypic party instructions, writers and critics have to support the dogma of "basis and superstructure". Thusly: "Children's literature is the result of social and economic relationships."8 Writers' participation in the communist dogma is expressed in a variety of themes. For instance, children do not dwell on any lack in material needs, never complain about poverty but rhetorically express their satisfaction and happiness. Their thanks for a "happy life" is often made to "great comrades" such as Stalin (until he was 'destalinized') and Lenin, as well as the party, the army and the "soviet folk", especially the "Russian folk". Another example is that children are frequently reminded of their elder's experiences in the fight against "fascists", "capitalists", "kulaks", "bourgeois remnants", and "bandits" all of them bad guys. Children are also told about heroics of youth who resisted the "enemy", especially if the youths belonged to the communist organizations good guys. These reflections of class struggle are found not only in the past but also in the present. In terms of the critic, the same writers of children's literature:
"take source material for their plot from reality: they describe the fight of gendarmes and other soviet people against imperialist spies, against criminal offenders who were deprived of their class status . . ."9
Sometimes children, themselves, are depicted as participants in the class struggle. R. Norkus tells a story about a child, named Stepukas, who is awakened up by noise at night, peeps through a gap from his room and sees a freedom fighter in another room (I quote):
"For the first time he looked at a live bandit and couldn't cast his eyes away. It appeared that if he (the freedom fighter) turned his face to him, Stepukas would see a beastial head, a wolf's mouth: so many terrible stories he had heard from his mother talking to her neighbors stealthily."10
In K. Kaukas' story, children are scouts and activists against German soldiers during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania. Their parents send them with bombs to explode a bridge in order that the "fascists" could not return to Germany.11
Children are continuously reminded about the supposedly dark past of their country and the bright present or future under communism. V. Petkevičius describes a talk between two children:
You live nicely now; one may say: lordly.
Father says that pretty soon all people will live that way.
Will live, agreed uncle. But we shall still sweat a lot. Because the lords had made lots of poor fellows.12
Another theme expressed is that children's activities, beliefs and moods are often described in the frame of communist organizations for children (i.e., octobrists, pioneers) or adolescents (i.e., komsomoltsy). Sometimes even pre-schoolers are involved in these activities. They concentrate on helping the police catch poachers13 who fish in the lakes or black marketeers.14 Of course, the scapegoats are made lazy bones or remnants of bourgeois mentality. By and large, the purpose of communist children's organizations is to spread rhetoric about soviet leaders, explorers, inventors, and especially to glorify innumerable commemorative days of communists: for example, the October revolution day, the army day, the navy day, the Berlin victory day, the workers' day, the international women's day, etc. On these occasions, all children have to automatically repeat that their country is free, liberated from fascists, exploiters and the like; that it works for universal peace and the good of the peoples. And above all, there is a stress on happiness and optimism of all little people whose duty it is to help "the society" and the party as it helps "the society".
In addition to the above themes, two characteristics in soviet children's literature are invariably and scrupulously defended and promoted, namely: the particular concepts of fatherland and the universe.
For example, children often mention Lithuania as their place of birth and express their love for her but the child's fatherland is never Lithuania. It must be the "whole country" which stretches from Palanga (in Lithuania) through Leningrad, Tbilisi, Alma Ata to Vladivostok. For instance, the poet V. Reimeris recites in verses: "In Moscow, Kishinev, Vilnius and Baku"15 as if they were the boroughs of New York. The fatherland is always represented by Moscow. Sometimes the "depth of the country" might mean the Ukraine, where a hero flees from the German army.16 However, Siberia or Kazakhstan (where hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians were deported and many perished) are hardly mentioned in festive rhetoric. When the German army occupied Lithuania, native children got an unusual consolation from their elders, namely: "Fascists would not succeed in reaching Moscow"17 as if the children cared more for a centuries old enemy symbol Moscow than for their own capital of Vilnius.
Under the thinly disguised slogan of "friendship of nations" the alleged superiority of the "elder brothers" is systematically expressed in fictional images of Russian soldiers' leadership, courage, wisdom and other abilities. The Russian language, the "language of Pushkin, Lenin" etc. is a sacrosanct phenomenon. After one year of Russian communist occupation, the Nazis overran Lithuania. But, in current Lithuanian children's literature, children are portrayed as having learned to speak Russian so fluently as to converse with Russian guerrillas who opposed the Nazis in Lithuania. This supposed preference for the Russian language is so overworked that a writer may depict native children endeavoring to learn the Russian language in order to "communicate" with a stray dog which was once owned by a Russian commissar.18
In children's books on discoveries, inventions, or explorations Russian names invariably pop out as firsters no matter whether their deeds are real or fictional while foreigners are sometimes mentioned as nameless scientists; very rarely is full credit given to a great name from the West. This is especially true in translations from the Russian language which are abundant in Lithuania.
During the several decades of soviet Russian occupation of Lithuania there are two distinct periods: the Stalin era and the more ambiguous destalinization era. The first period lasted until the end of the fifties even though Stalin died in 1953. This period was characterized by official silence on the fact that Lithuanian freedom fighters tens of thousands of them were engaged in guerrilla and traditional warfare against the Russian occupation forces for years. Only in the second period when the Russian army had crushed the organized, active Lithuanian resistance the party admitted its existence. According to communist sources up to 25,000 Lithuanian partisans perished in that resistance but even up to date those sources do not venture to admit that the communist forces suffered even greater losses.
Those two periods are reflected in children's literature. Lithuanian freedom fighters have been called bandits in both periods but in the first period they are more or less abstract ogres than human beings. In the second period they get some psychological grounding though the same biases against anything Lithuanian or Lithuanian independence persist.
During the first period Lithuanian writers who did not flee to the West or were not exiled into Siberia had to become "turncoats". For instance, A. Vienuolis has always been a favorite of young readers because of his legends from the Caucasus area but his themes have changed since the communist takeover. In his "Rock of Bloody Revenge" (Kruvinojo keršto uola) mountain people, the Kabardins, had lived by killing and plundering throughout long centuries. The salvation of the mountaineers was brought by the:
"Great October socialist revolution which declared all people's freedom and equality even in the mountains. And since that time bloody revenge fights disappeared, mutual national hatreds and religious fanatical animosities ceased, and men stopped exploiting man among Caucasus nationalities."19
Children's literature in the second period has the same tendencies but more sophistication. Some writers are able to express traditional children's values in the form of tales or in ambiguously construed situations. But these are exceptions.
The Soviet child fostered and created in children's literature usually plays the role of a grown up party man no matter how artificial he appears. Even the soviet critic admits that children's literature:
"lacks conflict and attractive plots. There is a good measure of protraction, unnatural information, didactic and fantastic combinations."20
The concept of the universe is carefully screened from the notions of the Creator or deity. Nature or natural phenomena are substituted for that. When the children come to the questions of the unknown, the writers allow them to believe even in the remnant images of pagan religion such as perceiving fire as a representation of eternity21 in order to avoid any Christian symbolism. In children's mind evening darkness is associated with baisuolis,22 the personification of awe. Another image of fear, baubas, is used for "pedagogical purposes" in place of a lullaby: the child is threatened by his mother with baubas who may kidnap the child if he does not fall asleep.23
As good atheists, children are supposed to "understand" that Aristotle had an erroneous conception of the universe.24 Even the title of a children's book like "In the Realm of Shadows" indicates the debunking efforts of the anti-religious ideology.25 Its content refers to exploitation in the name of religion. Children are confronted with a religious character who prays one day and takes God's name in vain the next day with such words that "all the people would close the windows and doors."26
Religion, like history, in new editions of classical writings is treated differently according to the nationality of the writer. F. M. Dostoevsky may mention Jesus' name and portray Christian spirituality in new editions of stories for children, translated into Lithuanian.27 But J. Tumas-Vaižgantas, a Lithuanian classic, is screened. His "Aleksiukas ir motutė" (Little Alexis and mother) is a story about a little child who goes into the jungle looking for berries for his sick mother. In the original story Aleksiukas cannot get rid of his fear of snakes, and calls for God's help, makes the sign of the cross and puts dry tree branches in the pattern of the cross in order that the snake would emaciate in its den.28 But in the screened version of the story Aleksiukas' personality is deprived of his deep religiosity albeit tainted with magic.29
The story of another child, Sauliukas Iešmanta, has also been distorted by literary censorship. In the original allegory Sauliukas is searching for the Lithuanian symbol ("word") to be discovered, unearthed in the fortress hill.30 In the doctored version this episode is entirely omitted31 since it refers to Lithuania's struggle against the czarist Russian rule. Anything pertaining to Russia or Russians is touchy. Baranauskas, Maironis and other classical writers share the fate of Tumas, too.
There are many eyewitnesses, underground publications like the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania and other sources passing a much harsher judgment of children's life under communism. In any event the soviet child appears not to know that more than a third of a million Lithuanians were deported to Siberia and other foreign regions, that religion is persecuted, that teachers threaten their pupils who attend churches or religious burials, that Russian and Lithuanian students often clash in the streets, that young people dare to demonstrate against the party and the Russians on many occasions, that Romas Kalanta and several other patriots immolated themselves protesting the occupation of their country, etc. Could native children not know these great events? Hardly. Even if they don't know everything, they know enough to understand that the soviet child created and fostered in their literature is not quite true. Could then a false image of the soviet child lead to the socialization of the true (whatever he is) soviet man? We don't have the final answer and it should be the topic of another study but conservatively speaking we may venture the same answer: hardly.
May we conclude this study with the Lithuanian proverb: One can travel throughout the whole world with lies, but cannot return home.
1 Dabartinės lietuvių kalbos žodynas (Contemporary Lithuanian Dictionary), Vilnius, Governmental Publishing House, 1954.
2 Hannah Arendt, On Revolution, New York, Viking, 1963, pgs. 261, 268.
3 Čiarušinas, Mano pirmoji zoologija (My First Zoology), Vilnius, Vaga, 1974, page entitled "Arklys".
4 Z. Ergle, Mūsų kiemo vaikai (The Children of Our Yard), Vilnius, Governmental Publishing House, 1961, pg. 3.
5 Ibid., pg. 15.
6 A. Matutis, Su kurpinėm (With Knapsacks), Vilnius, Governmental Publishing House, 1958, pg. 10.
7 U. Bronfenbrenner, Two Worlds of Childhood: U.S. and U.S.S.R., New York, Russel Sage, 1970, Part I.
8 V. Auryla, Lietuvių vaikų literatūra (Lithuanian Children's Literature), Vilnius, Mintis, 1967, Vol. I, pg. 10.
9 Ibid, pg. 24.
10 R. Norkus, "Stepukas" in Būk pirmas (Be the First), Vilnius, Vaga, 1973, pg. 101.
11 K. Kaukas, "Tilto atgal nėra" (No Bridge to Return) in Būk pirmas, Vilnius, Vaga, 1973.
12 V. Petkevičius, Ko klykia gervės (Why Do the Cranes Cry), Vilnius, Vaga, 1973, pg. 15.
13 R. Budrys, "Vidurnakčio gegutė" (The Midnight Cuckoo) in Būk pirmas.
14 Z. Ergle, pgs. 90-95.
15 V. Reimeris, Šarkos švarkas (Magpie's Coat), Vilnius, Vaga, 1974, pg. 20.
16 V. Dovydaitis, Laiškas po vandeniu (A Letter Under Water), Vilnius, Vaga, 1973, pg. 88.
17 J. Dovydaitis, Mirties dėžutės" (Death Boxes), in Būk pirmas, pg. 47.
18 Petkevičius, pg. 55.
19 A. Vienuolis, Padavimai ir legendos (Fables and Legends), Vilnius, Governmental Publishing House, 1957, pg. 116.
20 J. Linkevičius, Vaikų poezijos dešimtmečiai (Decades of Children's Poetry), Vilnius, Vaga, 1972, pg. 202.
21 A. Puišytė, Sidabro varpelis (A Silver Bell), Vilnius, Vaga, 1976, pg. 11.
22 E. Balionienė, Popieriniai drugeliai (Paper Butterflies), Vilnius, Vaga, 1973, pg. 18.
23 L. Sauka, ed. Pelytė, nešk miegelį (Mouse, Bring Me Sleep), Vilnius, Vaga, 1973, pg. 18.
24 V. Liovšinas, Išsiblaškiusių mokslų magistras (The Master of Absent-minded Sciences), Vilnius, Vaga, 1973, pg. 48.
25 V. Misevičius, Šešėlių karalystėje (In the Realm of Shadows), Vilnius, Vaga, 1974.
26 M. Ibraimbekovas, Paskutinė vaikystės naktis (The Last Childhood Night), Vilnius, Vaga, 1973, pg. 82.
27 (F. M. Dostoevsky), Fiodoras Dostojevskis vaikams (Dostoevsky to Children), Vilnius, Vaga, 1974.
28 Tumas Vaižgantas, Pragiedruliai (Flashes), Kassel, Aistia, 1948, Vol. Ill, pg. 31.
29 Vaižgantas, Aleksiukas ir motutė (Little Alexis and Mother), Vilnius, Vaga, 1976.
30 Tumas-Vaižgantas, Pragiedruliai, Vol. Ill, pg. 87-99.
31 Vaižgantas, Aleksiukas ir Motutė.