Archive | January 21st, 2018

Holocaust: The War for the Spirit

NOVANEWS

The War for the Spirit

By Paul Eisen

We are entitled to search for the truth. The real crime committed by the National Socialists—the exclusion, dis-empowerment, deportation, enslavement, death by omission and by commission and expulsion of a people simply because they were that people—was a terrible one. One does not need gas chambers to make the targeting of Jews, just because they are Jews, extraordinary and unacceptable. Nonetheless, if this targeting did not extend to extermination, if there were no gas chambers and if six million Jews did not die, then we should know it and, if necessary, address the implications. If there is some reason why we should not investigate this matter, then the onus is on those who would deny us that right, to say why. Those who would deny us that right have tried to say why, but in my view they have failed miserably.

But what does it matter how many Jews were murdered and in what way and with what intention? A murder is a murder and one murder is one murder too many. What difference will it make whether the Holocaust is proven or not? Will it have any affect whatsoever on the status and attitudes of Israel or on its behavior towards the Palestinians—issues on which we pressingly need to focus?

But the Holocaust is not just murder. Nor is it just mass murder. Nor is it even just genocide. There have been plenty of murders, mass murders and even genocides, but none have been memorialized like the Holocaust. The Holocaust is held to be the worst crime in human history, and this is not because more people were killed or because they were killed more brutally or more senselessly. Three million Polish Jews are held to have died in the Holocaust. Three million Polish non-Jews also died in the same period of history—yet the Jews, as evidenced by the memorialisation accorded them, are seen as more important. Fifty million people died in the Second World War, including twenty million Russians, ten million Germans and Austrians and six million Jews. Yet only the Jews warrant a “Holocaust”.

Is this because it was only Jews who were targeted for obliteration simply because they were Jews, and because it was only Jews who were exterminated in such a cool, premeditated and modern fashion by such an advanced, liberal and enlightened nation in the heart of Christian Europe? If the revisionists should prove their case that Jews were not targeted for extermination, that there were no gas-chambers and there was no six million, would there then be no Holocaust? Would Jews become just more tragic victims of a tragic period of history, on a par with the millions of other victims, including the thousands upon of thousands of German civilians slaughtered in the terror bombing of German cities by the western allies?

The revisionist community has probably said just about all it can say and proved all it can prove and have probably made the case sufficiently to at least cast doubt on the veracity of the Holocaust narrative. Future historians may well reject the Holocaust as history, but the Holocaust may yet go on, no longer as history but as ideology and even theology. Even though the evidence may lead us to accept that there never was intent to eliminate every single Jew from Europe, or any gas chambers at Auschwitz, or anything near six million victims, this may not make one iota of difference any more than archeological evidence might prove that there was no Exodus from Egypt and medical science might throw doubt on the virgin birth.

Because there is another possibility—that the suffering of the Jews is held to be the worst crime in human history not because of the nature of the crime but because of the nature of the victims. Maybe Abe Foxman had it just about right when he wrote: “[The Holocaust is] not simply one example of genocide, but a near successful attempt on the life of God’s chosen children and, thus, on God himself.”

Because it may be that the Holocaust is not just special, it may be that the Holocaust is sacred. It may be that speaking of the Holocaust alongside other atrocities is like speaking of the Passion as being the crucifixion of one troublemaker and two thieves. It may be that the Holocaust is a narrative of suffering greater than just of one person on a cross.

If Auschwitz is something other than a horror of history, if it goes beyond the ‘banality of evil’, then Christianity totters on its foundations. Christ is the Son of God, who went to the end of the humanly endurable, where he endured the cruelest suffering … If Auschwitz is true, then there is a human suffering which simply cannot be compared with that of Christ … In this case, Christ is false, and salvation will not come from Him … Auschwitz is the refutation of Christ. –Claude Lanzmann

So the Holocaust and Jewish suffering, no longer history, now theology, have become a religious imperative for Jews, and more critically for all Jews, even for those Jews who regard themselves as secular, who haven’t been near a synagogue since they were children, even for those Jews who don’t much consider themselves Jews. Take ten Jews today, maybe three will worship God, perhaps nine will worship the state of Israel, nine-point-five may worship “The Jewish People” but nine-point nine-nine-nine recurring will worship Jewish suffering and the Holocaust. The Holocaust resolves the great dilemma of modern Jewish life—how to be a Jew when you no longer believe in the Jewish God. Secular Jews have found many gods to replace the one they reject—Marx and Trotsky, atheism, psychoanalysis, multiculturalism, human rights, money and success, and of course, Zionism—there’s lots to choose from but only one that serves as a catch-all for everyone. And if you don’t believe it, try this—go find the most educated, secular, progressive, enlightened, perceptive, sensitive Jew you know—deny the Holocaust and then stand back.

But the Holocaust is not confined to Jews. The Holocaust is not only the central martyrdom and therefore a religious focus in modern Jewish history but also, if not in world history, then certainly in American and European history. All over North America and Western Europe: Holocaust museums—cathedrals to the new religion with their own priests and priestesses; Abe Foxman, Deborah Lipstadt, Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, abound—the biggest and best in Washington DC with all the other symbols of American nationhood and power. Holocaust Chairs at major universities, memorials, foundations, conferences and symposia, books, magazines, films, TV documentaries. The further we travel in time from the actual events the greater the sacralisation. But these are only the outward manifestations. The Holocaust, the ultimate in suffering is a paradigm for all Jewish suffering and for all intolerance, discrimination and hatred against Jews and this is in itself is a paradigm for all suffering and all intolerance, discrimination and hatred against all people. That’s why a major Holocaust Museum in the U.S. is able to style itself as simply “The Museum of Tolerance”, and that’s why those who dare to challenge the Jewish claim to a particularity of suffering are nearly always accused of “intolerance” or of “promoting hate”. The Holocaust may be the ultimate symbol of Jewish power, the most visible means by which the Jewish will in this world is enforced and displayed to a cowering non-Jewish world. It proclaims that Jews are suffering and Jews are innocent so Jews can do what they like and, by association the state of the Jews is also suffering, is also innocent and can also do what it likes.

The Emperor’s new clothes

But the world doesn’t jump because it feels sorry for Jews. As Israel Shamir says, compassion and guilt may get you a free bowl of soup but not a lot else, and certainly not the ninety billion deutschmarks paid in reparations by the Federal Republic of Germany to the infant state of Israel, the billions of dollars paid by successive US governments to maintain that state, nor the free pass given to Israel by just about everyone to do pretty much what it likes to the Palestinians. The power of the Holocaust is not the power to arouse pity and compassion in the rest of the world. Anyone can see that Israel has no need of our pity or compassion and neither have Jews. Israel is not weak and Israel is not innocent and neither are Jews. What is harder to see is how anyone could ever have thought otherwise. Could it even be the same with the Holocaust? Is it not by now plain that there is very little evidence to support the Holocaust narrative, that the extermination narrative just doesn’t add up, and that the issue of the gas-chambers could, as Ingrid Rimland reminded us, be settled easily by forensic investigation.

I suggest that forensic science ought to settle that disagreement about what Germans did or did not do in World War II in an open public forum.

Why has this not been done? Everyone must know that if the establishment could disprove revisionist claims they would, so why haven’t they? And anyone can visit any number of websites and find mountains of evidence against the veracity of the Holocaust, so why don’t we?

The reason is the same reason why courtiers have, since time began, acted as if a stark naked emperor was beautifully attired—because they have to. The power of the Holocaust is the same power as enabled a few thousand Englishman to rule hundreds of millions of Indians; a few hundred French aristocrats to rule a few million French peasants and a Czar and a few hundred Russian nobles to rule millions of Russian serfs. It is the same power that all over the world and throughout human history has enabled the prosperous few to rule over the impoverished many. It is the very essence of power in this world; the power of bluff. As an unclothed Emperor can force people to believe that he is clothed, so the Jewish and Holocaust establishments can make us believe that black is white in the Holocaust narrative and that Jews and Israel are suffering and innocent. And if they can’t make us believe it, they can still make us say that we believe it. To the wannabee dissenter, the power behind the Holocaust says this, “Watch it! If we can enforce this we can enforce anything!”

But why should we care if Jews choose to create for themselves such a mythology, even if that mythology has been accepted by so many others? The answer is: we must care because if the Holocaust is false, then there are those who suffer under that falsehood. First, if the special status of Jews is removed, then the equal status of every single non-Jew who died in that same time, till now demeaned and denigrated, is immediately restored to its rightful and equal place. And there are other victims too. The German people stand accused and found guilty of having committed the worst crime in human history. The Poles, Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians etc. etc. stand accused and found guilty of aiding, abetting and even applauding the commission of the worst crime in human history. Add to them the Catholic Church and the Pope, the Americans and British who stand accused and found guilty of not having done enough to prevent the commission of the worst crime in human history. Add to them Christianity and Christians who throughout the ages stand accused and found guilty of laying the foundations for the commission of the worst crime in human history. And finally you may as well throw in pretty much the entire non-Jewish world accused and guilty of what amounts to simply not being one of the chosen victims of the worst crime in human history, and therefore condemned forever to hush their voices whenever the word Jew’ is mentioned and to stand silently as the myth of Jewish chosenness in the Holocaust is propagated.

The weapons of the poor …

There is one other victim: a present, pressing, ultimate victim. The Palestinian people—denied, denigrated and abused by a power which uses the Holocaust as a shield behind which any and every atrocity may take place—are surely the primary sufferers under the Holocaust.

On March 22, 2001, Robert Faurisson wrote a paper for the proposed Beirut Conference on Revisionism and Zionism, which he knew would never be presented. He was right. The conference was cancelled due to external pressure, largely by Jewish groups. In his paper for the first time, Faurisson addressed the Arab world. First he put it to them that an intelligent adversary may say that they fear something when they don’t, and that they don’t fear something when they do. Thus their enemy’s firepower is deflected from those places where it may do real damage to those areas where it can do little damage.

Then he listed those things that Zionists do not fear: They do not fear military power—they’ve more than enough of their own and anyway, they know that anyone who has military power is far more likely to support them rather than oppose them. They do not fear anti-Semitism—on the contrary they feed on it to create sympathy for their cause. They do not really fear denouncers of Holocaust exploitation—the Norman Finkelsteins and the Peter Novicks—so long as they do not challenge the Holocaust itself. After all, the fiercest critic of something can (albeit often unwittingly) become its staunchest guardian—(If Norman Finkelstein says it, it must be true.) They do not even fear anti-Zionism since Zionism, like Jewish power itself, has the wondrous ability to transform itself into anything it wants—left/right, religious/secular, one-state/two-state—all provide fertile ground for Zionism and Jewish particularity. Nor do they much fear attacks on the founding myths of Israel—that is, all of them except one. Finally, they do not even fear being called Judeo-Nazis. On the contrary, being labeled by one’s adversaries as a Nazi merely affirms that ‘Nazi’ is the very worst thing imaginable.

He then told his audience what Zionists do fear: They fear the weapons of those who have nothing left to lose—the poor and the weak. They fear the stones and suicide bombers of the Palestinian Intifada—and they fear the weapons of that other Intifada—the words of the revisionists.

Zionists truly fear the weapons of the poor (children’s stones, their slingshots like that of David against the giant Goliath, the suicide attacks) and all that may endanger persons and business; they fear a demeaning of their brand image. But they are above all apprehensive of “the poor man’s atomic bomb”, that is, the disintegration, by historical revisionism, of the lie of the gas chambers, the genocide and the six million; they dread this weapon that kills no-one but that would not fail, if properly used to explode their big lie like a bag of hot air … to lose the “Holocaust” is to lose the sword and the shield of Israel as well as a formidable instrument of political and financial blackmail

Despite their honourable intentions and dedicated efforts, the solidarity movement, which includes many Jews of conscience, has had little success in stopping the Zionist juggernaut. The truth is that the only thing that has stalled it has been Palestinian steadfastness and Palestinian stones. Although they will never say so, Palestinians must know that they are not just facing the might of the Israeli state but also the power of organized world Jewry and its primary arm, the Holocaust. Perhaps Palestinians should consider lobbing a few stones in that direction. Perhaps we all should.

 

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The Palestinians as an “Invented People”

NOVANEWS

By Rich Siegel

The name “Palestine” has been around for a long time. “Peleset”, transliterated from Egyptian hieroglyphics as “P-l-s-t”, is found in numerous Egyptian documents referring to a neighboring people or land starting from around 1150 BC. The “Philistine” States existed concurrently with the ancient Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, making up the coastal plain below Jaffa and south to Gaza. In the 5th Century BC Herodutus wrote of a “district of Syria, called Palestine”. About a century later, Aristotle described the Dead Sea in Meteorology and located it in Palestine:

Again if, as is fabled, there is a lake in Palestine, such that if you bind a man or beast and throw it in it floats and does not sink, this would bear out what we have said. They say that this lake is so bitter and salty that no fish live in it and that if you soak clothes in it and shake them it cleans them.

This writer has had the misfortunate of frequently engaging in debates with Zionists (a bad habit I need to kick!) who often tend to seize on small ideas. “When did the Palestinians ever have their own country?” In order to win such an argument one would have to reduce oneself to their terms, and produce a map that shows a country and borders: “Palestinian Kingdom, 1587 – 1702”, and then let them present their map of ancient Israel and Judea, and then get into a wrestling match the winner of which would claim the territory for their own. Or perhaps the issue would be better settled the way the New York colony won Staten Island from New Jersey: with a boat race. If the goal is exclusivity, as it always has been with Zionism, then the only criterion in achieving it is winning, whether a war or a race.

There was no 17th century Palestinian Kingdom, or 18th or 19th. There were, prior to Allied victory in World War One and the League of Nations “mandates” which granted European powers control of the region, various provinces in a larger Ottoman empire, ruled from Istanbul (previously known as Constantinople, and before that, Byzantium), much as there are today various American states governed from Washington. Objectors will cry “Foul!”, as Americans are governed by Americans in Washington, whereas Arabs were governed by Turks, a different ethnic group with a different language. Fine. So I modify my comparison to the Spanish speaking Puerto Ricans governed from Washington, or the French speaking Quebecois governed from Ottawa. Neither the Puerto Ricans nor the French Canadians are being ethnically cleansed.

Prior to Zionism, there was no need for the Arabs of Palestine to focus on Palestinian identity. They were citizens of the Ottoman Empire. When, during the mandate years the British made contradictory promises to the Zionists and the Arabs, and the Arabs expected, and had the right to expect, eventual self-rule, it was certainly not a foregone conclusion that there was going to be an independent Palestine. Palestinians might well have been a part of a larger South Syria, or of a Greater Syria, and happily so. They certainly would not have been ethnically cleansed under those circumstances. The Arabs of Palestine have always had their own distinct Arabic dialect, and various other cultural attributes that set them apart from other regional Arab cultures, but that was never particularly relevant. Many various subcultures existed within the Ottoman Empire, and continued to exist within British and French mandates.

Interestingly, during the years of the Yishuv, the pre-Israeli-statehood Zionist community in Palestine, Jewish-Zionist settlers called themselves “Palestinians”. In this way, the Zionists ironically affirmed the thing that many of them wish now to deny: Palestinian identity. In 1948, amid the massacres and military forced mass expulsions of the “nakba” (Arabic for catastrophe, the name commonly given to the events of 1948), when the state of “Israel” was declared, all of the Jews who had been calling themselves Palestinians became “Israelis”, and when the dust cleared, the Arabs who remained within the green line became “Arab Israelis”, like it or not. (It was not known until the state of “Israel” was declared, what it was to be named. “Zion” was considered as a possibility, but rejected, as the result would have necessitated referring to “Arab Israelis”, the Arab citizens of Israel, as “Arab Zionists”.)

The designation “Palestinian” was more actively embraced beginning in 1964, with the forming of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), this out of necessity, because a people who had been ethnically cleansed, who were in a state of shock and humiliation, and who were desperate to recover and regain what was rightfully theirs, found it useful to rally around symbols representing themselves: A name and a flag are two of the basics.

Golda Meir famously said in 1969, during her tenure as Israeli prime minister:

There were no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? It was either southern Syria before the First World War, and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.

Golda is actually right on this point and that point. I would not have been able to show her a map that says “Kingdom of Palestine” or “Grand Duchy of Palestine” or any of dozens of designations that might have satisfied her. But this I can say for sure: There were human beings on that land, and they had been there all their lives, and their families for many generations before them down through the centuries. And many of them were actually descended from ancient Jews who later converted to Christianity and Islam, while our ancestors, Golda’s and mine—the Ashkenazi Jews, were converting to Judaism in the Khazar Kingdom on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

Golda actually knew when making this statement, the information which has become available to the general public in the decades since: We Jews did come and throw them out and take their country away from them. It’s been thoroughly documented. It wasn’t when she made this statement in 1969. She was able to get away with it then. But since then an entire generation of Jewish-Israeli scholars, (and many others, but we Jews need to hear it from Jews first!) has carefully documented the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and presented the history that she personally knew, but actively hid and denied. She and her colleagues concealed the truth from Jewish supporters of Israel all over the world including my family, who taught me lies quite innocently, because they didn’t know any better.

In 1984 a book written by Joan Peters, entitled From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine, was released to the world. The book claimed that the Palestinians were not resident in Palestine long-term, but were recent arrivals, having come to take advantage of economic opportunities in Palestine which were largely the result of Zionist Jewish settlement. What a perfect way for us Zionist Jews to massage ourselves (I was one at the time!) and drive a wedge between ourselves and the growing awareness about Palestine in the world around us! So it really was a “land without people for a people without a land”! Those Arabs were all immigrants! And how ungrateful that they hate us after all the opportunity we gave them! A wave of related claims surfaced among the Zionist community. An essay by Mark Twain describing his touring of a sparsely populated 19th century Palestine, was offered up into the mix of “Palestinian-denier” evidence. Twain, whose writing was full of humorous and ironic opposition to human bullshit, was no doubt rolling in his grave over this. And claims were often heard that prominent Palestinians, from Edward Said to Yassir Arafat, were “not really Palestinian”.

Enter another book, in 2003, The Case for Israel by Alan Dershowitz. In case 19 intervening years had given anyone a memory lapse since the publication of Peters’s book, Dershowitz borrowed heavily from same, giving the same statistics and making the same conclusions.

Enter yet another book, but this one very different: In Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, published in 2005, Norman G. Finkelstein exposed Peters’s statistics as fraudulent, and with that revelation both her argument and that of Dershowitz, collapsed. However, the damage is done among those who wish to ignore Finkelstein, and there are many! “Isn’t he a holocaust denier?”, I’ve been asked. I respond: “No. His parents were holocaust survivors.” Zionists have long used a familiar tactic against those who challenge their propaganda: Defamation. And so the lies persist. This writer still has people putting From Time Immemorial in his face to prove their argument. They refuse to be embarrassed.

At the time of this writing (January 2012), the American public is being treated to an entertainment we get every four years: the run up to our presidential election. As the Democratic candidate will obviously be the incumbent, we are witnessing the Republican candidates claw at each other in their striving to win support for the Republican nomination. Enter a billionaire Jewish American Zionist named Sheldon Adelson, casino magnate and the 8th wealthiest American alive, who along with his wife has donated $10 million to candidate Newt Gingrich. Adelson, whose holdings include the Israeli newspaper Israel HaYom (Israel Today) made some interesting statements while in Israel at an Israel Media Watch event in 2010:

I am not Israeli. The uniform that I wore in the military, unfortunately, was not an Israeli uniform. It was an American uniform, although my wife was in the IDF and one of my daughters was in the IDF … our two little boys, one of whom will be bar mitzvahed tomorrow, hopefully he’ll come back—his hobby is shooting—and he’ll come back and be a sniper for the IDF.”

And:

All we (the Adelson family) care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel, because even though I am not Israeli born, Israel is in my heart.

Does it sound like this guy has “divided loyalties?” Maybe like the Jewish neocons in the Bush administration who got us to fight a proxy war for Israel in Iraq? No—you can’t say that! It would be “anti-Semitic”!

So is it any wonder that Newt Gingrich has made the utterly incorrect and profoundly idiotic statement that he has made about the Palestinians being an “invented” people? It has nothing to do with any education on the subject of the history, or any awareness of the current situation. It’s simply a question of wanting to win, and of reiterating nonsense he has heard in conversations with a very rich and generous supporter, nonsense which jives with the general impressions that Americans get from our Zionist-controlled media, and that no doubt circulate in Gingrich’s Republican circles. Does anyone think Gingrich has read Finkelstein? I doubt it! And if he did, would he turn down $10 million in favor of truth and justice?

The people native to the land of Palestine were not “invented”. It is indeed unfortunate that someone who is supposedly educated, and who has achieved position in life where he is poised to potentially become the next president of the United States, is putting forth such foolishness.

 

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How I Became a Holocaust Denier ?

NOVANEWS

By Paul Eisen
How I Became a Holocaust Denier

My family were ordinary folk—’twice-a-year Jews’ we used to call them. But like most of us second and third generation, upwardly mobile, North London Jews, our Jewishness filled our lives. And, at that time, that meant Zionism and the Holocaust. For me, my family, and our friends, a post-Holocaust Israel meant quite simply ‘never again’.

But, while seemingly ordinary, my family was also rather extraordinary. My father was unusually tolerant and free-thinking, and my mother too was unusually lively in her thinking. A born rebel, there was nothing she loved more than to burst a balloon. As for me, I started off, first as the family tsaddik—awfully concerned with God and my Jewishness (though always strangely at odds with other Jews)—then the family dissident-intellectual. By young adulthood, you would have found me somewhere on the Zionist left—unquestioning in my support for the Jewish state but wishing it would not behave quite so badly and stop embarrassing me in front of my friends. However, when it came to the Holocaust, my faith was unwavering.

This is me in 1978 at Yad Vashem:

Then through the museum and its unfolding narrative: Concentration, Deportation, Selection, Extermination. It wears you out, it really does. Like countless others, we stand dumb in front of the little slave-labourer’s shoe in the glass case and also like countless others, we know we’ve had enough.

Then to the shrine itself: The bunker with its dulled metal floor, off-centre the smoky flame flickers, through the hole in the roof, a trickle of black smoke, a world destroyed. Then outside, from the gloom into the brilliant Mid-Eastern sunshine and up the few steps, and there it is: after the fall, redemption and the future—the blazing panorama of Jewish Jerusalem. We Jews really do do these things awfully well.

-From “We Stand with Israel” by Paul Eisen

That was 1978 and I didn’t then know what I now know: that, as I came out of that bunker—that universally known symbol of Jewish suffering, and took in that perfect view—I was looking straight at that completely unknown symbol of Palestinian suffering, the village of Deir Yassin. Of course, I didn’t know then about Deir Yassin, and even if I had known, I probably wouldn’t have much cared.

Thinking back, I suspect my response would have been something like: Ah yes, Deir Yassin, the one stain on an otherwise unblemished Zionist record. (The line had come, pretty much verbatim from my reading (age eleven) of the blockbuster Exodus.) And anyway, I would have reasoned, was not the fevered anguish of the Zionist leadership (later referred to by me as ‘Jewish breast-beating’) yet more evidence of an essential Jewish moral grandeur?

Sure, I’d known about Deir Yassin—both the village and the massacre—but I had not known, nor probably wanted to know, about the close to five hundred other destroyed or depopulated Palestinian villages or about the seventy known massacres which accompanied the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Like the child who does not, cannot, or will not see the lamb chops on his plate as skipping round the farmyard, so for now, I did not, could not and would not see those refugees, terrorists or biblical shepherds on my TV screen as those same folk—those safely de-personalized and de-humanized ‘Arabs’ -who had lived in what was, and as far as I was concerned, had always been, Israel.

But I must not blame myself. I do not blame myself. Even after digging through the accumulated layers of indoctrination to which any Jewish child could expect to be subjected, this was still some story. After two thousand years of exile, an ancient people return to their ancient homeland—a land given to them by God, or, (for the more secular amongst us), by History.

Because mine was no run-of-the-mill Zionism. What was claimed by so many Jews (particularly of the anti-Zionist, Marxist variety) to be an essentially political ideology, just a Jewish version of imperialism or an add-on—an essentially practical solution to an ever-present anti-Semitism, was for me—and I now know, deep-down, for most Jews—a deep, emotional, spiritual, even religious affiliation. For my Zionism was a true sense of my Jewishness—a feeling that came deep from within Jewish history and even destiny—a feeling that I, with all Jews, had stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and, also with all Jews, had marched through history—a history which, at the time, I had not yet dreamt of questioning.

But question it I did. Here I am again in 1996 on the phone to the first name listed under “Palestine”—PSC: the Palestine Solidarity Campaign:

“Hello, look, I’m doing a bit of research, trying to find the name of a Palestinian village on the site of a particular kibbutz … I used to stay there …”
“Which one?”
“I’m sorry …?”
“Which kibbutz?”
“Yad David. It’s in the north, about five miles from …”
“Hang on …” Then fifteen seconds later …
“It’s al Zawiyyeh”
“How did you do that?
“We’ve got a list … It’s from a book. It lists all the villages …”
“Can I get a copy?”
“Well, you may get it in a couple of bookshops … Try Al Hoda on the Charing Cross Road.”

One hour later I arrived at the Al Hoda Islamic bookshop in the Charing Cross Road and headed for the shelves marked ISRAEL (OCCUPIED PALESTINE). This is heady stuff, and there’re some interesting things too, “The Zionist in Literature” is one, with an intriguing essay on Ari Ben Canaan, which I really must read sometime, but nothing really on the villages. Most of it’s about this-way-to-peace or that-way-to-peace, so I’m there about three quarters of an hour before I find what I came for. It’s been misplaced on the wrong shelf—so that’s why I missed it, and it looks like it’s been there for quite a time. Not surprising, when I see the forty-five pound price tag. But it is what I’ve come for, All That Remainsby Whalid Khalidi, with the names, locations and the fate of four hundred and sixteen Palestinian villages destroyed since 1948.

“By the end of the 1948 war, hundreds of entire villages had not only been depopulated but obliterated, travellers of Israeli roads and highways can see traces of their presence that would escape the notice of the casual passer-by: a fenced-in area, often surmounting a gentle hill, of olive and other fruit trees left untended, of cactus hedges and domesticated plants run wild. Now and then a few crumbled houses are left standing, a neglected mosque or church, collapsing walls along the ghost of a village lane, but in the vast majority of cases, all that remains is a scattering of stones and rubble across a forgotten landscape.”

There are photos too, mainly of piles of rubble, which, to tell the truth, are a bit disappointing. After all, when you’ve seen one pile of rubble … a few stones … rubble … deserted site … rubble, overgrown with thorny plants … rubble … a few carob trees, piles of stones, crumbling terraces … rubble … a few stones … no landmarks … rubble … rubble … rubble.

But then there is something. As I hold the book in my hands it’s as if I’m holding something important, a record, a testimonial, a symbol of resistance, if you like.

I move on to the business at hand. District of Tiberias, 23 out of 26 villages destroyed … District of Bisan, all 28 villages destroyed … District of Safed, 68 out of 75 villages … Safed! Yad David is near Safed. Then I spot something … Kfar Yitzhak … I know that place. It’s a couple of kilometres from Yad David. I used to cycle there … Founded in 1943 on the site of the village of Qaytiyya … population predominantly Muslim … from agriculture and animal husbandry … had its own grain mill … at midnight June 5th 1949 army trucks encircled the village and Israeli troops swept down … rounded up the villagers and dumped them on a hillside south of Safed … villagers treated with brutality … kicks and curses … All that remains are a few stones … much of the lands absorbed by the settlement of Kefar Yitzhak …

I cannot believe what I’m reading, but I manage to turn the page just one more time and see what I’ve come here for: “Yad David … founded in 1946 one kilometre north of the village of al Zawiyyeh … The village now lies under the cotton fields of Yad David.”

As I’m going out, I show the man the slip of paper on which I’ve written the name al Zawiyyeh and I ask what it means. He looks at the paper. “Corner?” He says as if asking me whether such a thing could really be so. Then, as I’m leaving and just as an afterthought I ask: “There’s this word I keep seeing. Nakba. What does it mean?”
“al Nakba … the Catastrophe”

-From “1996” by Paul Eisen

In 1998, I met Dan McGowan founder of the Palestinian solidarity organisation “Deir Yassin Remembered,” but not once in our short conversation or in the extended interview he gave afterwards did Dan mention the proximity of Deir Yassin to Yad Vashem. I read about that later, in the leaflet Dan gave me, on the London Underground, somewhere between Gloucester Road and Holloway Road.

“The Holocaust museum is beautiful, and the message ‘never to forget man’s inhumanity to man’ is timeless. The children’s museum is particularly heart-wrenching; in a dark room filled with candles and mirrors, the names of Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust are read aloud with their places of birth. Even the most callous person is brought to tears. Upon exiting this portion of the museum, a visitor is facing north and is looking directly at Deir Yassin. There are no markers, no plaques, no memorials, and no mention from any tour guide. But for those who know what they are looking at, the irony is breathtaking.”

-From “Deir Yassin Remembered” by Dan McGowan

For Dan, a conservative American patriot, no more was needed than to note both the fact and the irony. But for me, with my leanings and obsessions, searching as I was for some meaning to the jumbled mass of my Jewish childhood and to the Holocaust, Israel and Palestine, it was epiphany. Deir Yassin was one thing but Deir Yassin in clear sight of Yad Vashem was quite another.

Of course, it was only much later, long after I had begun to think, write and speak about these things, that I was able to properly articulate even to myself that it was precisely this ‘breathtaking irony’ of Dan’s that had so held my attention. But even if I didn’t then know it, I certainly hung onto it—from that moment I was a messenger who had found his message.

And takers there were a-plenty. Palestinians, long resigned to Jewish suffering being placed at the centre of their own tragedy, were still pleased with the surge of publicity that the story and the resulting Jewish participation brought to their cause, and Jews were, as ever, delighted to have themselves and their suffering once more centre-stage. Deir Yassin gave Palestinians a new and effective narrative for resistance, and Jews an activism, sufficiently challenging to seem courageous and meaningful, but not so challenging as to necessitate any loosening of tribal bonds. And the rest—the Christians, the Marxists and the various non-aligned—well, as usual, they just went along with the Jews.

Now I had it all—Palestinian suffering/Jewish suffering, abused/abuser. Okay, so, my much-loved Jewish victim was now the perpetrator but no matter, Deir Yassin could be viewed only from Yad Vashem—and the suffering of the Palestinian people could be seen only through the prism of my beloved Jewish suffering.

Unfortunately or fortunately (it really does go both ways) it didn’t stop there. Here I am in 2004:

It is understandable that Jews might believe that their suffering is greater, more mysterious and meaningful than that of any other people. It is even understandable that Jews might feel that their suffering can justify the oppression of another people. What is harder to understand is why the rest of the world has gone along with it.

And …

That Jews have suffered is undeniable. But acknowledgement of this suffering is rarely enough. Jews and others have demanded that not only should Jewish suffering be acknowledged, but that it also be accorded special status.

Jewish suffering is held to be unique, central and most importantly, mysterious. Jewish suffering is rarely measured against the sufferings of other groups. Blacks, women, children, gays, workers, peasants, minorities of all kinds, all have suffered, but none as much as Jews. Protestants at the hands of Catholics, Catholics at the hands of Protestants, pagans and heretics, all have suffered religious persecution, but none as relentlessly as Jews. Indians, Armenians, gypsies and aborigines, all have been targeted for elimination, but none as murderously and as premeditatedly as Jews.

Jewish suffering is held to be mysterious, and beyond explanation. Context is rarely examined. The place and role of Jews in society—their historical relationships with Church and state, landlords and peasantry—is hardly ever subject to scrutiny, and, whilst non-Jewish attitudes to Jews are the subject of intense interest, Jewish attitudes to non-Jews are rarely mentioned. Attempts to confront these issues are met with suspicion, and sometimes hostility, in the fear that explanation may lead to rationalisation, which may lead to exculpation, and then even to justification.

-From Speaking the Truth to Jews” by Paul Eisen

And again a few months later …

The issue (of Jewish suffering) is complex and cannot be fully debated or decided here, but the following points may stimulate thought and discussion.

  • During even the most terrible times of Jewish suffering such as the Crusades or the Chmielnitzky massacres of seventeenth century Ukraine, and even more so at other times in history, it has been said that the average peasant would have given his eye-teeth to be a Jew. The meaning is clear: generally speaking, and throughout most of their history, the condition of Jews was often far superior to the mass of the population.
  • The above-mentioned Ukrainian massacres took place in the context of a peasant uprising against the oppression of the Ukrainian peasantry by their Polish overlords. As has often been the case, Jews were seen as occupying a traditional position of being in alliance with the ruling class in their oppression of the peasantry. Chmielnitzky, the leader of this popular uprising, is today a Ukrainian national hero, not for his assaults on Jews (there are even references to his having offered poor Jews to join the uprising against their exploitative co-religionists—the Jews declined) but for his championing of the rights of the oppressed Ukrainians. Again, the inference is plain: outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence, though never justified, have often been responses to Jewish behaviour both real and imaginary.
  • In the Holocaust three million Polish Jews died, but so did three million non-Jewish Poles
  • Similarly, the Church burned Jews for their dissenting beliefs but then the church burned everyone for their dissenting beliefs. So again, the question must be asked: what’s so special about Jewish suffering?

And …

The Holocaust, the paradigm for all anti-Semitism and all Jewish suffering, is treated as being beyond examination and scrutiny. Questioning the Holocaust narrative is, at best, socially unacceptable, leading often to social exclusion and discrimination, and, at worst, in some places is illegal and subject to severe penalty. Holocaust revisionist scholars, named Holocaust deniers by their opponents, have challenged this.

They do not deny a brutal and extensive assault on Jews by the Nazi regime, but they do deny the Holocaust narrative as framed by present day establishments and elites. Specifically, their denial is limited to three main areas. First, they deny that there ever was an official plan on the part of Hitler or any other part of the Nazi regime systematically and physically to eliminate every Jew in Europe; second, they deny that there ever existed homicidal gas-chambers; third, they claim that the numbers of Jewish victims of the Nazi assault have been greatly exaggerated.

But none of this is the point. Whether those who question the Holocaust narrative are revisionist scholars striving to find the truth and are shamelessly persecuted for opposing a powerful faction, or whether they are crazy Jew-haters denying a tragedy and defaming its victims, the fact is that one may question the Armenian genocide, one may freely discuss the Slave Trade, one can say that the murder of millions of Ibos, Kampucheans and Rwandans never took place and that the moon is but a piece of green cheese floating in space, but one may not question the Jewish Holocaust. Why? Because, like the rest of the Jewish history of suffering, the Holocaust underpins the narrative of Jewish innocence, which is used to bewilder and befuddle any attempt to see and to comprehend Jewish power and responsibility in Israel/Palestine and elsewhere in the world.

-From “Jewish Power” by Paul Eisen

It was while writing the above and more that I came across Joel Hayward’s ill-fated M.A. thesis The Fate of Jews in German Hands. That Hayward recanted mattered not one jot, and his credibility was only enhanced by his own clear astonishment at what he was writing—an astonishment fully matched by my own at what I was reading. That the Holocaust was exploited and abused, I had understood, but its veracity? No way. Now, for the first time ever, there could be doubts.

Holocaust Denier

It’s always worth defining your terms. Not that it does that much good—the inquisitors will see what they want to see and claim what they want to claim. But for the record here’s what I do and do not question. First, what I do not question:

  • I do not question that the National Socialist regime brutally persecuted Jews.
  • I do not question that Jews in Germany were discriminated against, violently assaulted, dispossessed, imprisoned in camps and expelled and that many Jews died as a result.
  • I do not question that Jews in countries occupied by Germany or within the German sphere of influence were pitilessly assaulted, dispossessed and subjected to brutal deportations, many to forced labour camps where many hundreds of thousands died.
  • I do not question that many Jews were executed by shooting in the East.

But enough of this negativity—here’s what I do question:

  • I question that there ever was an official plan on the part of Hitler or any other part of the National Socialist regime systematically and physically to eliminate every Jew in Europe;
  • I question that there ever existed homicidal gas-chambers;
  • I question the figure of six million Jewish victims of the Nazi assault and I believe that the actual figure was significantly less.

And finally, one more thing I do not and do question: I do not question the horror of what was done to Jews by National Socialists or the right of Jews (including myself) to regard that horror any way they wish. I do, however, question their right to compel the rest of the world to feel the same.

Deny the Holocaust!

For my money, a child of six can see that something’s not right about the Holocaust narrative, and the science simply confirms what I already suspect. But I differ from the Holocaust Revisionists. They are scholars—historians and scientists who apply ‘truth and exactitude’ to determine the truth or otherwise of the Holocaust narrative. I’m no scholar. I care nothing for the chemical traces in brickwork or the topological evidence for mass graves. But I’ve read the literature, and it just doesn’t add up.

That Jews suffered greatly from 1933-1945 is not in question, but the notion of a premeditated, planned and industrial extermination of Europe’s Jews with its iconic gas-chambers and magical six million are all used to make the Holocaust not only special but also sacred. We are faced with a new, secular religion, a false God with astonishing power to command worship. And, like the Crucifixion with its Cross, Resurrection etc, the Holocaust has key and sacred elements—the exterminationist imperative, the gas chambers and the sacred six million. It is these that comprise the holy Holocaust which Jews, Zionists and others worship and which the revisionists refuse.

Nor is this a small matter. If it was, why the fuss, why the witch-hunt, why the imprisonment of David Irving, Ernst Zündel and Germar Rudolf? And it’s not just them. What may be a massive lie is being used to oppress pretty much all of humankind. The German and Austrian peoples who, we are told, conceived and perpetrated the slaughter; the Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Rumanian, Hungarian, peoples etc. who supposedly hosted, assisted in and cheered on the slaughter; the Americans, the British, the French, the Dutch, the Belgians, the Italians (but not the Danes and the Bulgarians) etc. who apparently didn’t do enough to stop the slaughter; the Swiss who earned out of the slaughter, and the entire Christian world who, it seems, created the faith-traditions and ideologies in which the slaughter could take place, and now the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim peoples who seemingly want to perpetrate a new slaughter—in fact, the Holocaust oppresses the entire non-Jewish world and indeed much of the Jewish world as well. Stand up and have done with it.

So here’s something else. The Holocaust revisionist scholars and researchers are dedicated and skilled students of historical evidence, and for them’Holocaust denier’ is but a term of abuse to be hurled as ‘witch’ might have been hurled in the Middle Ages. But for me, ‘Holocaust Denier’ is a label I accept. This is not because I don’t think anything bad happened to Jews at the hands of the National Socialists—for what it’s worth the real story of brutal ethnic cleansing moves me far more than any ‘Holocaust’—and it’s certainly not because I think any such assault is right and proper. No, I deny the Holocaust because, as constituted, exploited and enforced, the Holocaust narrative is a false and abusive god, and I wish to put as much moral distance between it and myself as I can.

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On Trump’s Announcement on Jerusalem

NOVANEWS

By Rich Siegel

I would like to present an opinion on Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem using my friendship with Ayman Nijim, a native of Gaza, to offer important perspective. I have his permission. We discussed it the other night. Having a conversation with someone from Gaza is unlike having a conversation with someone from anywhere else. Me: “Ayman, how is your family in Gaza?”. Ayman: “Trying to reach them for 30 days. Maybe electricity will come on soon and I will be able to connect with them.”

Ayman’s family comes from Isdud, Palestine, which has since become Ashdod, Israel. Ayman has never been there. He has never been to Jerusalem. He is not permitted into any part of Israel or the occupied territories except for his native Gaza. Ayman’s family fled Isdud in 1948, after they heard about the massacre at Deir Yassin and other such incidents, and when it became clear that Zionist terrorists were attacking across the region. They had a very real fear of losing their lives if they remained. They fled intending to return. That never happened. They ended up in Gaza, like so many other victims of the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic, the word used to describe the events of 1948). Ayman was born and raised there.

Ayman came to the US and earned an MA of Arts in Intercultural Leadership and Management at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. He is now Director of Programs at Maine Immigration and Refugee Services in Portland. He frequently gives talks at universities and churches about Gaza and the Palestinian situation generally.

When I visited Jerusalem this past October, I took photos which I then texted to various friends, including Ayman. Ayman texted back a request: Would I write his name on a piece of paper and take photos with it? I was confused. He explained, “It will be like my soul is in Jerusalem”. I did as he asked. I wrote his name in English and asked a hotel clerk to write his name in Arabic. (I stayed in Sheik Jarrah, in an Arab hotel in an Arab neighborhood).

Taking photos with my friend’s name changed my experience of Jerusalem. Of course I was aware that Palestinians hold Jerusalem very dear to their hearts and consider it their capitol, and I was aware that many Palestinians are prevented from going there, (those who live in Gaza, and those who are refugees in various places). But having traveled with my friend Ayman, having spent time with him in different parts of the US, the fact that I was in a place that he cherishes but is not permitted to visit, suddenly became very painful.

To fully understand the impact of Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem an appreciation of the history of the international community’s relationship with Israel and the Palestinians must be understood. Due to holocaust guilt in Europe and the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in America, Israel has been allowed to attack Gaza repeatedly, to attack neighboring states, to expand settlements, to build a wall outside Israel’s “green line” effectively stealing more land, and to visit any number of humiliations on the Palestinians, all with impunity. The one crumb that has been thrown to the Palestinians, the one thing that leaders around the world have given to show the Palestinians that their plight is seen at all, is the refusal to give in to Israel’s desire to have Jerusalem recognized as its capital, and to insist that embassies remain in Tel Aviv.

An understanding of the difference between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is also necessary. Jerusalem is holy to three faiths. For Christians it contains the Via Dolorosa and Calvary. For Muslims it is the site of Mohammed’s night journey and al Aqsa Mosque. Zionist Jews claim exclusive entitlement to Jerusalem as site of the ancient temple, but this fails to recognize the significance of this city to the other two faiths. Prior to Zionism members of all three faiths lived in harmony in Jerusalem. Arabic-speaking Muslims and Christians, and yes, Arabic-speaking Arab Jews and those who escaped the Spanish Inquisition and were welcomed. It is an ancient city, and it is an Arab city, albeit much of it now dominated by Jews from all over the world. It remains dearly beloved by Palestinians as their capital.

Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 by 60 Jewish families on the outskirts of Jaffa. Even though it is part of historic Palestine, it is a Jewish city, not significant to other faiths. If there is to be a Jewish state in historic Palestine, a situation of dubious morality but never the less a modern reality, its capital should be there. Of course, Israel will put its capital where it wants, but the rest of the world doesn’t have to recognize its decision.

Trump’s statement can be compared to Sharon’s march on the Temple Mount in 2000, which ignited the 2nd intifada. It is a flagrant insult to the Palestinians, and a nasty provocation. While Sharon knew he was making a provocation and did it deliberately, it is likely that Trump is too ignorant to appreciate the ramifications of his actions, and did it just to please factions in the US. He stated that it would help “the peace process”, but he did not state how it would help, and what peace process exactly he was referring to. It was a ridiculous assertion.

The actual results of this action are unknown at this point, but clearly it has inspired anger among those who support peace and justice, and among those who will be adversely affected: The Palestinians. Most Israelis are cheering. It is very likely to strengthen the convictions that most Israelis and many Zionist Jews around the world have, that they are entitled to all of Jerusalem, and embolden actions related to ethnically cleansing and Judaizing Arab neighborhoods there. It is already commonplace for Arab families in East Jerusalem to be booted out of their homes with full cooperation of Israeli authorities, and then replaced by Jewish settlers. The number of such incidents is likely to increase due to Trump’s announcement, along with an increase of settler activity in other areas, taking Trump’s support as a pat on the back for Zionist expansionism generally. It is a tragic step in the wrong direction.

I am old enough to remember when Jerusalem was “unified” in 1967. My mother was full of joy when she told me that Jerusalem was now “OURS!” And that sounded great to an 8 year old. But what “OURS!” meant was “not theirs any more”. And what that meant to people whose families had lived there for centuries, was not even part of our awareness at all. It has been a painful but very gratifying process to see beyond Zionist narrative and Jewish tribal loyalty, to appreciate the reality of my Palestinian brothers and sisters who experienced Zionist conquest from the other side. (To her credit my mother has taken that journey, too).

“If we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us.” -1 John 4:12

(In the second photo I am with Ayman in Washington, DC. Unlike Jerusalem and Ashdod, Ayman is allowed to visit Washington, DC).

 

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The October Revolution and Educational Transformation

NOVANEWS

C.N. Subramaniam

The Soviet Union was perhaps the most self-conscious attempt at comprehensive restructuring of society based on principles of equity, fraternity, and economic progress. It inherited a society and ways of thinking that were highly hierarchical and patriarchal that was dominated by a landed aristocracy and absolutist kingship but simultaneously had strong elements of communitarian life based on equality. What marked the Tsarist Empire was the wide diversity of nationalities and tribal communities extending from the Tundra in the far north to Uzbekistan in the south. The challenge of integrating these into a larger framework of egalitarian progress while simultaneously nurturing the diversity added to the complexity of the momentous experimentation.

The experience of Soviet Union has to be seen as one marked by a very creative dialogue between an idealist imagination of egalitarian but modern society, the inherited social institutions and ways of thinking and the exigencies imposed by a very hostile world keen to see the experiment fail. It was an experiment which was shaped by conscious choices made in response to concrete conditions and to the consequences of the choices previously made. It therefore can be grasped only by looking at it historically as human choices made in the flow of change.

Evolution of Socialist/communist critique of bourgeois mass education

Mass education evolved with the emergence of modern nation state, capitalist industrialisation and democratic revolutions, mainly during the course of 19th century. It also developed as an instrument of colonialism in non-European countries. Socialism too evolved alongside and it could not ignore the role being played by mass education in building the edifice of capitalist society and state. Robert Owen shaped the initial socialist discourse in the first half of 19th century when mass education was yet to evolve in Britain. He visualised socialisation of child care and upbringing so that individual families were freed from such responsibilities. This meant setting up public education as a cornerstone of his utopian communities. He campaigned for setting up a national public funded universal education system with schools and teacher education institutions managed by a public department of education. He also conceived of an elementary education which respected the freedom and choice of children and gave important space to music and dance at the cost of scholastic subjects. Owen shared with many of his contemporaries a fear of anarchic and unruly and indisciplined mind-set of the working class but unlike them was against using the fear and religion to discipline.

The Sunday schools run by philanthropists for working class children mainly focussed on the three Rs and Bible to be taught by rote to instil a sense of discipline in children. Instead Owen believed that all humans are inherently rational and perfectible and did not need fear of divine reprisal to be good. In developing a rational human being, he argued, memory and rote learning had no place. “Thus the child whose natural faculty of comparing ideas, or whose rational powers, shall be the soonest destroyed, if at the same time, he possess a memory to retain incongruities without connection, will become what is termed the first scholar in the class; and three-fourths of the time which ought to be devoted to the acquirement of useful instruction will be really occupied in destroying the mental power of the children” (R. Owen, A new view of society, or essays on the principle of the human character and the application of the principle of practice. London, 1814. Cited in Peter Gordon, Robert Owen, UNESCO, 1999). Education was to take place outside the class rooms amidst nature or the community. He was strongly against punishment as a method of disciplining children and instead insisted on understanding children and why they behaved the way they did. Some of the principles of his pedagogy can be gleaned from the following observations by Peter Gordon:

“The qualifies that Owen looked for(in selecting his teachers) were a love of children and willingness to follow his own instructions. No corporal punishment was to be administered, no harsh words were to be uttered by the teachers and the children were not to be ‘annoyed with books’. The young were encouraged to ask questions when their curiosity was aroused and, above all, they were to be happy. There were no prizes or punishments.”

Owenian schools developed what was termed the ‘objects method’ which used concrete objects as starting point of studies rather than text books. This came from “Owenite insistence that knowledge of the natural world was one of the means by which the mind could be freed from the preconceptions of existing society…. Objects were fragments of the world of nature, and children’s appreciation of them came through the senses, whereas books and teachers were a source of preconceptions. Hence the insistence of Owenite educationalists on placing ‘facts’ before children, on letting children make up their own minds, and hence also the distrust of textbooks and the importance placed on the interrogative method of teaching, based on knowledge gained by individual inquiry.” (W. A. C. Stewart, Progressives and Radicals in English Education 1750-1970, Palgrave Macmillan UK, 1972 p. 47-8)

Owenian schools also taught natural science as an important component of curriculum in an age in which science was not a part of the curriculum even of elite schools which focussed on teaching classics.

One of Owen’s early concerns related to the divorce between mental and physical labour. He wrote, ‘The natural standard of value is in principle human labour, on the combined manual and mental power of men called into action’. He advocated and tried to put into practice the principle of active learning through interaction with objects of diverse kinds and also productive activity in the fields and workshops. While an admirer of Andrew Bell’s methods (incidentally derived from the native schools of Madras) of teaching literacy and numeracy, Owen insisted that it was not the method of instruction but the substance of education that mattered. To him the object of education was to develop people who would be oriented to living in a productive and self-administering community of equals. Owenite cooperative schools also experimented with democratisation of school administration by giving students of senior classes a vote on all matters of management and giving all other classes a right to formally petition for any change they wanted.

While Owenian experiments at commune building failed and gave place to radical political working class movements of the Chartists, many elements of his educational ideas continued to inspire democratic educationists. Publicly funded Education for all children (including working children) which simultaneously developed autonomy of the individual and served the needs of egalitarian community; activity based education that formed a continuum with real life, integration of mental and physical labour, child centred pedagogy that encouraged initiative of the children…. Owenian conception of mass education was not necessarily proletarian or socialist but drew from broad democratic educational traditions of Europe and America.

Marx drew upon Owen’s ideas on education and appears to have broadly approved of it as can be seen from the references in the Capital. He especially underlined Owen’s rooting his education not in some utopian commune but a society based on industrial production and his emphasis on the combination of mental, physical and poly-technical education.

Marx wrote little about education and we have to glean his views strewn in his writings. One of the early formulations can be seen in Marx’s third Theses on Feuerbach: “The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that it is essential to educate the educator himself.”

This opened the crucial possibility of education and conscious human activity as instruments of change rather than being passively determined by the ‘circumstances and upbringing.’ This dialectical relation between education and social change would become one of the cornerstones of socialist/communist views on education. Much later in 1869 in his intervention in the debates of the First International, Marx returned to this issue: “On the one hand a change of social circumstances was required to establish a proper system of education, on the other hand a proper system of education was required to bring about a change of social circumstances; we must therefore commence where we were.” (from the Minutes of the General Council Meetings of August 10 and 17, 1869) In other words Marx wanted to discuss policy in the concrete context of the present society (capitalist societies under democratic states as in the US or under absolutist states like Prussia) rather than speculate about education in a future society. As to what was needed to be done in education here and now, the Manifesto makes one of the earliest statements: “Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc., etc.” Marx was aware of the link between compulsory schooling and abolition of child labour and saw the two as complementary to each other. At the curricular level the demand for combining productive labour with scholastic education was not just to develop a skilled labour force, but also to break the divorce between mental and physical labour. Both the issue of ‘public education’ and technical education were problematic and Marx was to return to them in the First International debates.

While supporting the idea of public funding of elementary education Marx was critical of state provisioning or control over education. He drew a line between what was termed as ‘national’ and ‘governmental’ education. To quote the Minutes of the meeting, “National education had been looked upon as governmental, but that was not necessarily the case…. Education might be national without being governmental. Government might appoint inspectors whose duty it was to see that the laws were obeyed, without any power of interfering with the course of education itself.”” He probably had in mind the American education system which was funded and maintained by the local communities through taxes and administered by elected committees which appointed teachers and selected books. While he appreciated the idea, he was quick to point out the need for some centralised intervention by the federal state so that education was not left exclusively to the ‘state of culture in each district’. (Minutes of the General Council Meetings of August 10 and 17, 1869)

One may conclude that Marx’s views on the matter of who should control mass education is thus complex. On the one hand he was clear that he was not in favour of ‘private’ education which would have meant that poor parents would not be able to provide for the education for their children. He was at the same time not prepared to hand over education to organised institutions like the state (government) or the Church which would have used education to mould the minds of the future citizens. “‘Elementary education by the state’ is altogether objectionable… supervising the fulfilment of these legal specifications by state inspectors, is a very different thing from appointing the state as the educator of the people! Government and church should rather be equally excluded from any influence on the school.” (Critique of Gotha Programme 1875)

While it is clear that here Marx specifically had in mind the regressive Prussian state, he was also making a general principle of separating education from both church and the state. His preference appears to have been for communities / municipalities to provide for free and universal education and administer through elected committees (control over teachers and curriculum). He was aware of the fact that local communities may be led by narrow concerns and hence supported setting up of national norms, “Defining by a general law the expenditures on the elementary schools, the qualifications of the teaching staff, the branches of instruction, etc.” (Critique of Gotha Programme 1875)

In practical terms he was arguing for provisioning and control by local communities under some kind of state supervision of ‘norms and standards’, balancing two poles. The communist movement appears to have somewhat ignored this important concern of Marx over state controlling education and his preference for locality and community control instead. (In fact it would appear that Gandhi’s Basic Education was also inspired by a similar discomfort over both state and private control of education.)

Of course it is possible to argue that Marx had in mind contemporary bureaucratic states like the Prussian state and not a democratic or socialist state. The fact remains that in the post World War II period communist movement in most countries has argued for state control over education in preference to local controls in the hope that a central state would be more ‘progressive’ and liable to rational engagement than multitudes of local bodies. Likewise socialist states under proletarian hegemony were expected to eschew the characteristics of states under capitalist or feudal-capitalist hegemony. This actually relates to the larger and vexed problem of the relation between proletarian hegemony and democracy, which we can take up at a later stage. Suffice here to quote a pregnant comment of Marx from his Critique of Gotha Programme, “Particularly, indeed, in the Prusso-German Empire (and one should not take refuge in the rotten subterfuge that one is speaking of a ‘state of the future’; we have seen how matters stand in this respect) the state has need, on the contrary, of a very stern education by the people.”

Marx was clear why public provisioning of elementary education was necessary: even though it raised funds for education through taxes, since tax fell mainly on the propertied classes (as it did in the 19th century) it was justified; “of course somebody had to pay, but not those who could least afford it.” (Minutes of the General Council Meetings, 1869) However, Marx was opposed to public funding of college education (Minutes) – perhaps on the assumption that it was mostly availed by the propertied classes who need not be subsidised by tax payers.

On the content of education Marx drew upon his philosophical conception of human being (‘man’ as he termed them) as a multifaceted personality who realised himself through productive and cooperative labour. Division of Labour which fragmented this personality and capitalist alienation which denigrated and deformed labour were the two main obstacles to the full realisation of human potentials. He saw in the growth of modern industry the destruction of the very basis of permanent division of labour as its continuous technological transformation cut asunder the relation of a worker to particular kind of labour and created the possibility of a multifaceted human being.

Modern industry “…is continuously transforming not only the technical basis of production, but also the functions of the worker and the social combination of the labour process… Thus large-scale industry, by definition, necessitates variation of labour, fluidity of functions, and the mobility of the worker in all directions. But on the other hand, in its capitalist form it reproduces the old division of labour with its ossified particularities.” Further, “large-scale industry, through its very catastrophes, makes the recognition of variation of labour and hence the fitness of the worker for the maximum number of different kinds of labour into a question of life and death.” However, the capitalist form of large scale industry which constantly throws out workers consigning them to the ‘reserve army of labour’ – “constantly threatens, by taking away the instruments of labour, to snatch from his hands the means of subsistence and, by suppressing his specialized function, to make him superfluous.” (Capital I, Penguin Edition, p. 617- 618) When workers gain control over this large industry and end its capitalist form a new possibility is opened up for human beings to realise their multidimensional potentials:

“That monstrosity (reserve army of labour? CNS)… must be replaced by the individual man who is absolutely available for the different kinds of labour required of him; the partially developed individual, who is merely the bearer of one of the specialised social functions, must be replaced by the totally developed individual, for whom the different social functions are different modes of activity he takes up in turn.” This fundamental social transformation would be accompanied by an appropriate system of education: “with the inevitable conquest of political power by the working class, technological education, both theoretical and practical, will take proper place in the schools of the workers.” (Capital I, p. 619) This transformation in part is facilitated by the expansion of society’s productive capacity which will enable reduction of ‘working hours’ allowing the human beings to take up diverse roles (as producers, artists, politicians, philosophers, crafts-persons,…). It will also be crucially facilitated by a new education for the children and adolescents which would combine productive work, cognitive development, and physical exercise/activity. It is in this sense that he saw great merit in Owenian conception of education. “As Robert Owen has shown us in detail, the germ of the education of the future is present in the factory system; this education will, in the case of every child over a given age, combine productive labour with instruction and gymnastics, not only as one of the methods of adding to the efficiency of production, but as the only method of producing fully developed human beings.” (Karl Marx, Capital I, Penguin, p. 614).

Marx also saw the seeds of this in the regulations of the Factory Acts, which required firms employing children to earmark certain hours for their education and also in the founding of technical and vocational schools which combined theoretical and practical aspects of mechanised production. (Capital I p. 618-19) He even favourably cites official reports which argue that these children who combine productive work in factories with schooling learn better than children who are in school fulltime as they are able to change the nature of their work during the day and hence able to concentrate better. This may explain the confidence with which he asserts that “ The combination of paid productive labour, mental education, bodily exercise and polytechnic training, would raise the working class far above the level of the higher and middle class.” (Marx-Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 21 (1867-1870) Moscow, 1985, p. 340).

In this context we need to reflect upon Marx’s ideas on childhood, child labour and education. The following notes on his ‘Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council’ (Sept 1866) summarise his views on the matter:

The tendency of modern industry to make children and juvenile persons of both sexes cooperate in the great work of social production is admitted to be a progressive, sound and legitimate tendency, although under capital it has been distorted into an abomination. In a rational state of society every child of the age of 9 years should begin to become a productive labourer so that no able-bodied adult person should have to be exempted from the general law of nature, which says: work in order to be able to eat, and work not only with the brain but with the hands too.

For the present, however, the Congress is concerned only with the working population. Here it distinguishes three classes of children and juvenile persons of both sexes, each of which is to be treated differently; the first class to range from 9 to 12, the second from 13 to 15, and the third from 16 to 17 years of age. It was proposed that the employment of the first class in any workshop or housework should be legally restricted to two, that of the second class to four, and that often third to six working hours,..

“…no parent and no employer should be allowed to use juvenile labour, except when combined with education. Three things were to be understood by education:

First, mental education.

Second, bodily education, such as is given in schools of gymnastics, and by military exercise.

Third, technological training, which imparts the general principles of all processes of production, and simultaneously initiates the child and young person in the practical use and handling of the elementary instruments of all trades.

A gradual and progressive course of mental, gymnastic, and technological training should correspond to the classification of the juvenile labourers. The costs of the technological schools should be partly met by the sale of their products.” (Marx-Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 21 (1867-1870) Moscow, 1985, p. 339-340).

It will be evident from the above that Marx argued for children above the age of 9 progressively engaging in productive labour (including wage labour) on the condition that it is accompanied by formal education and schooling. In fact he saw real productive work as an essential component of education, the other two components being academic and gymnastic. In advocating technical education Marx took pains to clarify that this was to be different training in specific ‘trades’ to prepare the children for a career in specific industries. It was to be a general polytechnical education introducing children to the nature of modern production in general. Further it would not just be a training in handling a particular process of production, but to understand all dimensions of the ‘business’ in both their practical and theoretical aspects. In his intervention in the General Council discussions in 1869 he was categorical on this point: “The technological training advocated by proletarian writers was meant to compensate for the deficiencies occasioned by the division [of] labour which prevented apprentices from acquiring a thorough knowledge of their business.” (Minutes of the General Council Meetings, 1869))

The International and its affiliated Parties were also agitating for reforms in the education system in the capitalist countries and not just visualising the future of education under proletarian hegemony. As such Marx was aware of the prospect of the ruling classes using schools to indoctrinate the future generations. This concern comes out clearly in his intervention in the debates of the General Council in 1869. He warned that the much acclaimed Prussian public education system “ was only calculated to make good soldiers.”(Minutes of the General Council Meetings, 1869)

Marx opposed the inclusion of subjects which admitted diverse interpretations based on political or ideological stances. “Nothing could be introduced either in primary, or higher schools that admitted of party and class interpretation. Only, subjects such as the physical sciences, grammar, etc., were fit matter for schools. The rules of grammar, for instance, could not differ, whether explained by a religious Tory or a free thinker. Subjects that admitted of different conclusions must be excluded and left for the adults…” (Minutes of the General Council Meetings, 1869)

Perhaps Marx was of the opinion that subjects that ‘ admitted of party and class interpretation’ when taught in public schools, would enable teachers of one or the other ideological persuasion to promote their viewpoint at the cost of the others. Hence his entreaty to exclude them from the domain of public schooling and teaching them outside the framework of schools.

Clearly Marx was apprehensive of the enormous power of the public education system which could be used to direct the thinking of the mass of the students even as he was aware of the importance of public funded mass education in both endowing the working class with necessary skills and foundations of knowledge. He was aware of a strong middle class hegemony over the education apparatus and was keen to contain its impact and demarcate between proletarian and middle class perspectives. While assessing Marx’s views on education we need to keep in mind the fact that public education system was just emerging in countries like England and its full impact and potential were yet to be seen.

About 150 years later we can see the impact of the massive machinery of indoctrination that school education has become. We also have the benefit of hindsight in being able to discern the ideological biases which even subjects like grammar and physical sciences are imbued with, something Marx seemed to have overlooked.

To what extent should Marx’s reservations extend to a state under proletarian hegemony is difficult to speculate upon. Marx himself consciously avoided such speculations and preferred to work with hard realities in front of him instead.

Marx did not anticipate the prospect of education acting as a vehicle of social mobility between classes. As such he was concerned about education of the labouring classes to the extent that it empowered them with basic tools of literacy and general knowledge and science and also professional skills and understanding. He was still not contemplating the prospect of working class children acquiring higher education and moving up in social scale or the opening up of professions to ‘merit’.

Marx’s focus was on political economy and larger structural issues relating to public education. However, the socialist/communist movement subsequently built upon the traditions of Owen and came out with a more comprehensive critique of public education under bourgeois states. We may consider two examples from either side of the Atlantic. The socialist/ communist movement in the pre-war period drew its educational ideas mainly from the liberal democratic traditions of Rousseau, Kant and Mill, the radical experiments of communities like the Quakers as well as the work of progressive educationists like Pestalozzi and John Dewey, besides Owen. By the turn of the century public education was well established not only in countries like Britain, US and Germany but also in colonies like India. Universalisation of elementary education had become an accepted idea. Thus the socialist views on education incorporated both a critique of the emerging education system and a visioning of an alternative to it from democratic and socialist viewpoints.

May Wood Simmons was an American Socialist teacher and writer who wrote an article on ‘Education and Socialism’ in 1901. (International Socialist Review, Vol. 1, No. 10, April 1, 1901) We will examine this article to understand the main currents of socialist views on education.

In Simmons’ view the purpose of education was not just to shape the individual and develop his or her personality, but to prepare him or her to understand and change the world around. “…education means not only the adaptation of the individual to his surroundings, but the training of him to understand his environment and thus giving to him the power to modify and change it.”” Literacy, science, history – all these were to be taught not so much as storehouses of information but as knowledge which will enable us to change the world around us.

The public education system as it had evolved mainly served the interests of the ruling classes of the times. “A careful survey of present educational methods and subjects of study must convince one that our schools are made to further the interests of the ruling industrial and commercial class of the time… In this way, education, which should aim at a rounded man and womanhood, is being used for the benefit entirely of the ruling class.”

Her main critique of American public education system was that in being geared to the needs of industry and commerce, it negated the individuality of each child and sought to create a standardised worker or consumer.

“Our system of industry to-day demands no individuality of the immense body of workmen. It has grown so far mechanical that in the great industrial establishments there is small need for the inventor or artist….

“Our school system has not advanced beyond the demands of the economic conditions. It has the same levelling effects. So many children promoted into a certain grade. The same work and way of doing this work is required of each one. The teacher with forty or fifty children in a grade has kittle opportunity to study the inclinations of each child. All are made to ‘toe the same mark.’ The whole system has become dull and mechanical. The very power of initiative is crushed out of the child.”

This erosion of individuality and initiative is complemented by the poor provisioning of the schools – poor and inadequate buildings, high pupil teacher ratio, acute shortage of teaching aids, labs and libraries…

She relates this state of affairs to the needs of the capitalist class to keep the mass of the workers ignorant and docile; “when it has found that ignorance, docile and unquestioning, (qualities) has served its purpose best it has reduced the labouring class to that condition.”

This is done by developing an education system and pedagogy that is cut off from life. Simmons draws upon John Dewey’s plea that “education should be a process or living and not a preparation for future living.” She writes, “The school to-day is an unnatural life calculated only to prepare one for future work. It has no relation either with the home or society. The life of the average American student is abnormal and returns him to society both scholastic and pedantic. To-day so-called education ends with the class-room instead of all of life being an education. Even the spirit of social solidarity and mutual interest is destroyed by the present system. For one boy to assist another in his task is a thing for which to be punished.”

Simmons calls for revolutionary transformation of education parallel to the transformation of the society. The ‘new education’ would be based on giving children experience instead of mere verbal instruction: “an effort… to put actual perception and observation of things by the senses in place of the mechanical instruction byword.”” She credits Robert Owen with the essentials of the new education: “he brought forward the demand that the intellectual and physical education should go hand in hand. That from the age of eight years up instruction should he united with regular labour in the house and garden. That from the thirteenth year children are to enter into the higher arts and trades and thereby be prepared to further the riches and well-being of society in the most effective manner with the greatest satisfaction to themselves. He comprehended the activity of labour in instruction not only as a necessary pedagogical end, but also as a means to the social production of goods.”

Productive labour was to provide the ground both for experiential learning and also for creative self expression of the individual.

“The new education and socialism are being developed from the same social conditions. They have as their object the same thing – freedom. Freedom for each one to develop his own methods of thought and his own initiative. To express in material form his inner being. It is recognized that to furnish this inner man and woman with material there must be supplied to them constant contact through their senses with the outside world, for that which is produced is but what has gone in through the senses, modified by each one s individual characteristics and tendencies.

“It is for this reason that the new education emphasizes the importance of work with tools and materials that the pupil may design and work out his design in a material form. Nature studies also are a prominent feature of the new education.”

Another concern evident in Simmons’ article is regarding the fragmentation of disciplines, each subject being taught as if it dealt with an autonomous sphere unrelated to each other. She appears to be in favour of integrated or inter disciplinary curriculum for schools, at any rate a curriculum which demonstrated the inter-linkages between different aspects of the world and human society. “For education to be of value it must present a unity in the things taught. Our old system has made each department of science an entirely new and foreign subject to the beginner, having no relation to anything either before or after… Every teacher should be able to take up subjects of study in due relation to society and the science of society – sociology. So far this unity or synthesis has been a subject of discussion among philosophers, but has received slight notice from the pedagogue.”

The combination of science, freedom and creativity would also be the foundation of Socialist Society: “Education under socialist conditions would produce men and women, not machines. As Marx has said, the end of socialism is ‘an association wherein the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all,’ ‘an economic order of society which together with the greatest possible development of social productive power secures the highest possible harmonious development of human beings.’

The citizens of the future socialist society would strive to master science so that they can strive for the betterment of all humanity and not just for the profit of a few. This idea of universalising scientific knowledge and utilising it for the benefit of all would become a consistent theme of left- wing movements among scientists and science educators. Simmons cites Prince Kropotkin, “We need to spread the truths already mastered by science, to make them part of our daily life, to render them common property.”

(Despite such democratic thinking there are several problematic issues in Simmons’ articles, especially a streak of racism and genetic determinism. She probably shared contemporary views that ‘criminals’ are born with certain genetic deformities and that when such persons reproduce they ‘weaken the race’. Such racist notions played havoc in the colonies and also the colonising countries.)

On the other side of the Atlantic, Sylvia Pankhurst reviewed the progress of mass education not only in England but also in colonies like India to make a fervent plea for strengthening it as a part of the struggle for communism. Pankhurst argued that the extension of mass education should not be seen as a design of the ruling classes, but as the result of the labour of those who pursued it out of love of humanity despite active opposition of capitalist employers. “It will profit us notching to discount the efforts of the pioneers by the false assertion that everything done to bring education to the masses was done purely to make them more useful to the exploiting class… The exploiting class, as a class, was opposed to popular education, and retarded every step of its progress” (Sylvia Pankhurst, “Education of the Masses” Dreadnought Pamphlet No. 1, 1918 ) In her review of Indian colonial education she points out that it was a tool of imperial acculturation and control, even though a large number of those striving for it were doing so out of altruistic motives. Yet the imperial policy of focussing on educating the elite and hoping that the educated elite will educate the masses came up for criticism: “The result is that only 3.39 per cent of the Indian people are touched by the educational system, whilst the proportion of the Indian male population in the secondary schools and universities is actually higher than in England and Wales. The more privileged sections of Indian society have grasped education for themselves and in the main, have left the masses in ignorance.”

Nadezhda Krupskaya, in collaboration with VI Lenin developed a comprehensive critique of bourgeois education and proposals for democratic and socialist transformation in the event of a revolution. Even though her focus was on Russian education, she was drawing upon the experience of other European countries and also the thinking of progressive educators like Pestalozzi and Dewey. She was to play a crucial role in the early educational experiments of Soviet government. It is difficult to access her writings prior to 1918 and anyway her principal writings were published only after the revolution.

In the earliest work accessible to us, (Concerning the question of Socialist Schools 1918) Krupskaya drew attention to the class character of bourgeois education, how the system is structured to educate the ruling elite, the petty bourgeois middle class and the working class and peasantry so that the class divisions are reinforced. These children go to different schools and there are clear barriers which prevent children of one class from entering schools of the other classes. The different kinds of schools envision different kinds of human beings, use different kind of curriculum and pedagogy to educate the children.

“If the school is for the ruling class then its objective is to bring up people who are able to enjoy and rule.” The best provided and most expensive schools are developed for them. “The children at such gymnasia are surrounded by tenderness and care, teachers give them freedom and trust. The very best teachers open their eyes to the aesthetic qualities of nature and the arts and introduce them to the holy of holies of science…. Efforts are also made to develop their willpower and persistence in pursuing their aims, efficiency and the ability to govern both themselves and others. At the same time teachers seek to instil in their pupils the firm foundations of a bourgeois outlook and to substantiate it historically, ethically and philosophically.””

Schools intended to educate the middle class seek to produce bureaucrats and ‘intellectuals’. “Particular emphasis is placed in such schools on the development of diligence, assiduity and scrupulousness, while the capacity for independent thinking, observation and judgement is suppressed. Most of the imparted knowledge is abstract and bookish…. In such schools particular emphasis is placed on the cult of the bourgeois state.” The obsession with bookish knowledge and disdain for manual labour form an effective barrier between the working people and such schools.

The public schools intended for the workers and peasants aimed at spreading limited literacy and numeracy so that the population can be better governed. The education is so designed that minimal knowledge is given to the children and that too “on the condition that pupils also assimilate bourgeois ideology. It is instilled in their minds that the bourgeois system… is the most reasonable just and the best one, that the rulers and superiors are the best persons and their instructions should be obeyed implicitly… Lessons in the country’s native language, geography and history are used to teach children the most unbridled chauvinism….The system of incentives, rewards, and punishments and marks is designed to provoke rivalry among pupils. In short, the objective of public schools is to instil the bourgeois morality in pupils, deaden their class consciousness and transform them into an obedient herd which can be easily controlled.”

Krupskaya quite succinctly puts her finger on the central issue of modern mass education. It is stratified, segregated, it has different aims for different segments of the population and the most enlightened education is reserved for the ruling classes. The schools are engaged in spreading bourgeois ideology which again has different shades for different segments.

Democratisation of schools can be achieved only by a democratic state whose primary task is to ‘make schools at all levels accessible to all sections of the population.’ Schooling needs to be reorganised to mould people who understand nature and society, who are capable of doing any kind of labour and who are keen to build a rational and happy life in society. “comprehensively prepared for labour, who can undertake any type of job, adapt to any machine and capable of engaging in intellectual labour that was until now the privilege of a special social stratum and that the population itself must be able to perform in order to be freed from dependence on the bureaucracy and thus become masters of their own lives.’” She outlined twofold objective for the new socialist school – the free development of the individuality of the child (‘Socialist schools are schools of freedom in which there is no room for regimentation, rote learning and cramming ) and expression of this individuality in useful and productive labour (‘leave the imprint of their own individuality on their work’). (All the above quotations of Krupskaya are from her article ‘Concerning the question of Socialist Schools’ from Nadezhda Krupskaya on the Labour oriented Education and Instruction, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1985, pp 47-53. The article was published in 1918 and was apparently written much earlier.)

While Lenin largely endorsed the positions of Krupskaya he added a significant dimension to the discussion on education: he was convinced that socialist culture had to be based on and draw upon the best in all cultures in human history, especially bourgeois culture and that it is not possible to visualise a proletarian culture which is created ad novo. Bourgeois education in depriving the working class children of this cultural heritage and making it an exclusive privilege of the ruling classes, was in effect cutting off the proletariat from all human heritage. In this he was echoing the views of an earlier generation of radicals like Kropotkin who had called for popularising science and philosophy among the masses. Lenin therefore advocated ensuring access to higher education to all children, and broadening of curriculum to include liberal arts, sciences, and literature. These were to be recast within a socialist mould through an integration with productive labour.

To sum up, the pre-revolutionary socialist/communist thinking on the issue of education drew from diverse sources, the experience of emerging mass education, philosophical critique of fragmented and class society and oppressive state, ‘progressivist’ conception of liberal democratic education, etc. It recognised in education an instrument of change rather than a tool for adaptation to environment. It saw education as a means of developing freedom and individuality which saw its fructification in productive labour. Given the clerical and scholastic origins of school education, the socialists were opposed to religious education as well as the scholastic distancing from real life processes. Education as it had evolved clearly demonstrated a class character and stratification which the socialists opposed in favour of universal access to a common education. They were also clear about the need for public provisioning of education so that all children can access it, but at the same time were apprehensive about state control over education. Socialists were also opposed to an education which required mere repetition of received wisdom and instead insisted on active learning in interaction with the environment, life, productive work and discussions. A recurrent theme in these discussions was the integration of mental and physical work, of academic and productive work, besides sports or gymnastics in the curriculum. Within academics too, there was a profound questioning of compartmentalising learning into distinct disciplines. The early socialists/communists were clearly opposed to the use of violence and systems of rewards and punishments in disciplining children and wanted to promote humane treatment of children giving them the initiative in learning. In fact democratisation of school management and giving students an active role in school management was also an important issue as it trained the younger generation in sustaining self administered communities. Many of these concerns were to play themselves out during the first decade of the Russian Revolution, not always in harmony with each other and often in conflict with each other.

Schooling on the eve of Revolution

Education in Tsarist Russia was designed primarily to cultivate a multinational nobility and bureaucracy. There were the state funded gymnasia with a predominantly classical education (emphasis on Latin, Greek, German languages). Entrance was by an examination which required much preparation and the scholars had to pay for their education. Both these ensured that only children from well to do families had access to them. About 60 percent of the students came from the nobility and the church, the urban mercantile classes accounting for a thirty percent and the remaining ten percent coming from other social classes including rich peasantry. Parallel to the gymnasia were the commercial ‘Realschule’ which taught practical subjects and did not focus on Latin. In addition there were exclusive schools for the nobility for the candidates entering the army etc, admission into which was open only the nobility. There were very few universities and entrance into them was through the gymnasia.

Mass elementary education was left to local schools run by district administration or the Church or private efforts. They focussed on teaching Russian reading and writing, arithmetic and the Bible. A student passing out of these schools was not automatically eligible for entrance into secondary schools like gymnasia or Realschule. Most of these schools were for boys and a very few for girls and perhaps none for both together.

Most of the schools were run on highly patriarchal principles with the Headmaster wielding complete control over the schools and the students being subjected to a high level of discipline and corporal punishments. The pedagogy emphasised rote learning and mastering the texts. Exams played a crucial role in schooling and in certifying scholars. For their part the students resorted to various methods of coping with this: ‘pranks, tricks, deceits, all kinds of ruses to obtain good marks, without actually knowing anything became the order of the day… School became a major source of hatred, no more.”” (Stanislav Shatsky, A Teacher’s Experience, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1981, p. 24)

It was left to socialist parties and such mass organisations to spread literacy and education among the working classes, which remained largely illiterate on the eve of the revolution. There were also a number of private initiatives which sought to experiment with progressive ideas in mass education, like the Yasnaya Polyana school of Leo Tolstoy or Good Life Camps of Stanislav Shatsky. Tolstoy’s writings on education were to have profound effect on both subsequent Russian educationists but also as far away as South Africa where Gandhi was inspired to set up his ‘Tolstoy Farm’.

As the Tsarist autocracy realised the need for reform and expansion of literacy to facilitate both industrialisation and building of a modern state, it sought to extend primary education. This was to be done in such a way as to spread literacy among the peasantry, without in anyway challenging the hold of the aristocracy and the urban elite over higher education. The 1905 revolution and subsequent establishment of quasi-democratic institutions, opened up debates on the nature of public education system, a debate in which the newly formed teachers unions participated actively. A nascent teacher’s movement had emerged during the 1905 Revolution under the All Russia Teacher’s Union (VUS) only to be suppressed by 1909. Reform proposals included democratisation of school management and dismantling of bureaucratic stranglehold, providing entrance to institutions of higher education to those passing out of elementary schools etc. These were strongly contested and opposed by the Tsarist bureaucracy, the Orthodox Church and the nobility. These debates themselves were short lived as the Duma was dissolved. The Tsarist government went on with its efforts to extend elementary education and also created systems for teacher education. The teacher education institutions became the focus of educational and pedagogical debates during the pre-war years. These half hearted attempts at extending primary education without enabling social mobility has led many scholars to argue that Tsarist Russia was well on its way to universalisation and modernisation of education but for the interruption caused by the War and Revolution. Indeed it is being argued that the Soviet education did not mark any break vis a vis Tsarism. Even if one were to concede that access to primary education had widened considerably in the last decades of Tsarism, the fact remains that the educational barriers to social mobility remained very much in place and Tsarism was not prepared to countenance any challenge to the privileged position of the ruling classes. (PL Alston, Education and the State in Tsarist Russia, Stanford, 1969, and Ben Eklof, ‘Russia and the Soviet Union: Schooling, Citizenship and the Reach of the State, 1870-1945’, in Laurence Brockliss, Mass Education and the Limits of State Building, 2012)

The two major issues that the Tsarist education system threw up were democratisation of educational administration so that the different ‘stakeholders’ like the teachers, pupils, parents and local communities had a voice in it, and restructuring the school system in such a way as to remove the social barriers that Tsarist autocracy had placed between primary to secondary and higher education.

Soviet Power and Education

When the new Soviet Government was named on the day following the revolution, Lunacharsky was to head the newly established Commissariat of Enlightenment. Lunacharsky was much aggrieved by the damage to historical monuments in Moscow and Petrograd and was on the verge of resignation and had to be persuaded to remain. When he walked into the Department of Education of the old Provisional Government, he was greeted by the lower technical staff but the entire officialdom had disappeared along with the files and funds. An emissary informed Lunacharsky that the officials considered the Soviet Government as an illegitimate usurper and cannot cooperate with it. The Teachers Union too had taken a similar position. The incipient Soviet Education Commissariat therefore had to restore the rudiments of school system. However this would not be a return to the old system, but the setting up of a democratic system. In fact, democratisation of school education was foremost on the agenda. Lunacharsky declared, “The State Education Commission is certainly not a central power directing educational institutions. On the contrary, all school affairs must be handed over to the organs of local self-government. The independent action of workers, soldiers and peasants’ cultural educational organisations must achieve full autonomy,” (cited in S Fitzpatrick, Commissariat of Enlightenment, p. 26)

During the first decade of its existence, the Commissariat did not have the bureaucratic structure or funds to act as a central directorial organisation. It saw its work primarily as a body laying down policies, developing models and suggestions and enacting necessary laws and regulations. Implementation was left to the local Soviets which were supposed to have the actual control over the schools and also the requisite funds. During the first years of the revolution when the old state structure was being demolished and new systems were being created with both central directives and spontaneous initiatives from below, the task which took priority was democratisation.

Democratisation was to be achieved by the creation of ‘Educational Soviets’ elected by all residents of a locality. The central commissariat was to function without any subordinate organ under its authority. This would place maximum responsibility and initiative with the masses. Initially the educational soviets were to be the controlling bodies at the local levels. There was much debate whether this was desirable particularly in view of the fact that majority of the population was composed of illiterate peasants whose trust in the Church was deep rooted. Krupskaya was an ardent defender of reducing bureaucratic structures and relying on the masses. “Let us not be afraid of the people, let us not be afraid that they will elect the wrong sort of representatives, bring in the priests…. Our job is to help the people in fact to take their fate into their own hands.” However, since this was not in line with the overall structure of soviet power, it was decided by June 1918 that these elected bodies would act as ‘advisory and controlling bodies’ alongside of local departments of education. (A Lunacharsky, On Education, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1981, p. 272) Besides elected representatives of the people, it was also to consist of elected representatives of teachers, pupils and informed persons (intelligentsia?).

Incidentally the anxiety about the priests retaining a hold was a real one. The decree on separation of religion from school and removal of the Bible from school curriculum (20 Jan 1918 decree ‘On freedom of conscience, the church and religious orders’ on separation of the Church from the State and school from the Church.) did not go down well with a large number of rural communities who wanted the local priests to teach the Bible in the schools. In fact many rural communities passed resolutions authorising the local priest to teach the Bible. In contrast the League of Militant Materialists pressed for teaching atheism in the schools. This too was resisted by the Commissariat on the plea that while atheism may be taught as a part of the work of Pioneers and Komsomols, they cannot be part of school curriculum.

The Soviet power also had to confront the hostility of the middle class teaching community and the unions which sided with the Provisional government. Lunacharsky made serious attempts to bring over the teachers to helping the Soviet government to restore and reform school education, but was consistently repulsed. The teachers of Moscow and Petrograd went on a long strike between December 1917 and March 1918 refusing to work for an ‘usurper’ government. Repeated appeals from the government fell on deaf ears. This earned them the wrath of mass of workers and their Soviets. Lunacharsky pointed out in a speech in August 1918: “A profound hostility and misunderstanding opened up between the teachers and the people. It became necessary to postpone reform of the schools, to map out ways of achieving it which would by-pass the progressive teachers and rely on the action of the people themselves.” (Lunacharsky, On Education, p. 14)

As even threats of mass dismissal did not deter the teachers, the Commissariat called for election of teachers by the Soviets and asked the old teachers to submit themselves to a process of re-election (or reappointment) by the Educational Soviets or the local soviets. (‘Decree on the elective nature of all teaching posts and the posts in the administration of education’ 7 Feb 1918) These popular bodies took a less lenient view of the striking teachers and agreed to elect and appoint only those who expressly agreed to support Soviet power. Being subjected to such a treatment by the mass of illiterate members of the lower classes made the teachers further embittered. Their sympathies and affiliations were more with the bourgeoisie and the upper middle classes whom they wanted to emulate. They considered this an unwarranted infringement of the autonomy of the school and undemocratic. The Commissariat tied to strike a balance and advised the Soviets that teachers should not be penalised for their political views and their re-election should be based on their professional competence and sincerity towards their work. The matter came up for discussion in the First All Russian Congress of Education, held in June 1918. Lunacharsky was blunt: “We cannot now believe in the possibility of working with them after their sabotage. Therefore we are for the re-election of the teachers…. We believe that better educationists will come from the people.” (S Fitzpatrick, The Commissariat of Enlightenment, p. 39) In his response the Teacher’s Union representative said: “They have put the schools under the systematic surveillance of the Soviets. They have conducted re-elections of teachers. They say the teacher is unreliable, and so has to be re-elected… This means that even in distant future there will be no autonomy. Freedom of education will perish…” (ibid) The Soviets and the other trade unions called for dissolution of the Teacher’s Union, mainly in view of its sympathies with the Whites during the Civil War and active assistance to White armies in several districts. The Commissariat resisted this pressure and continued to hope for a reconciliation with the Union. However, as the situation became impossible by the end of 1918, it was dissolved in December and its properties handed over to an experimental colony run by Shatsky. It took another year of debate and discussion to form an alternative union of teachers committed to the Soviet power and school reform.

However the stigma of collaboration with counter revolution stuck to the profession of teaching and even the new union failed to win the trust of the working class activists and rank and file Bolsheviks. The problem persisted well after the Thirteenth Congress of CPSU in 1924, in which a special note was taken of the fact that the teachers were now sympathetic to Soviet power and should no longer be discriminated against. Some of the leading members of the party like Zinoviev, Kalinin and Krupskaya, Radin had to intervene to turn the tide against the teachers. The discrimination took many forms including denial of voting rights, day to day confrontation with Komsomols in the schools and low priority in salary disbursals and being in general treated as NEPmen. Their salaries for example continued to be far less than the pre war level. The situation only improved after 1927.

This episode illustrates not just the special character of the pre revolutionary Russian teacher community but also the social character of the teacher community in general in a bourgeois society. Indeed the Russian teachers were opposed to Tsarist autocracy and fought against it, especially its bureaucratic control over the school system and regressive social policies. However, it was too closely tied up with the bourgeois society and culture to be sympathetic to a revolution led by proletarians and peasants who were largely uneducated at that time. Their ties with the bourgeoisie led them to actively oppose the Soviet power and its initiatives in education and in fact actively assist the counter revolutionary White Guards. This thus made it imperative for the Soviet power to ‘dismantle’ the school system and reconstitute it too. This indicates the general class character of the teaching community, which despite the presence of a number of democratically minded individual teachers, finds itself closer to the ethos and culture of the ruling classes which it aspires to emulate and become a member of. This then creates a distrust of the masses and also a disdain for their educational needs. While it may be possible to ‘re-educate this stratum’, it can happen only after the umbilical cord which connects it with the bourgeoisie (upper caste, patriarchal) is forcibly cut. At the same time, the revolutionary state which is keen to restructure the education system needs the cooperation of the school teachers (most of whom it inherits from the previous regimes) and needs to re-orient them and also itself learn to trust them. Simple antagonism with this strata may harm the cause of restructuring education.

A third dimension of democratisation of schools was student activism. Children of all ages could not but be deeply stirred by the transformations taking place all around them, the excitement of revolution and civil war and the angst of NEP. Especially the children of the working classes and peasantry who were able to emerge from the shadows of the middle class were aroused into political action. The Bolshevik party sought to channelize their energies by organising the Komsomols for the adolescent children and Pioneer movement for the still younger. These organisations took upon themselves the task of keeping vigilance and ensuring that the revolution did not lose its way. Lively debates on how to safeguard themselves from the bourgeois influences and how to cultivate proletarian and revolutionary spirit became the order of the day. For example we hear of the debate over issues as important as ‘is gold filling of teeth a mark of bourgeois culture?’ ‘is attending high school and college a mark of embourgeoisement?’ The students found their new found freedom to criticise their teachers and management of the school. This was to some extent encouraged to counter the right wing sympathies of the teachers. Even though the student representatives were in minority in the ‘school soviets’ or school management committees, day to day functioning of the schools had to confront what the teachers perceived as student indiscipline. The Commissariat too had called for ‘Pupils’ self-government’ which led to the formation of class committees and school committees of students and meetings to discuss various issues pertaining to the school and current developments. These meetings usually turned against the teachers and head masters and also against fellow students who were tried and punished for errant behaviour. The Commissariat and the Party often chided them for excessive belligerence and unwarranted interference in school management.

Even as student and youth activism sprang up across the country, many communist educators like AS Makarenko, Shatsky etc. tried to develop processes and institutions which embodied responsible ‘self-governance’ by children. Democratic principles of collective functioning like formulating rules of behaviour through discussion, abiding by them, entrusting leadership responsibilities by rotation, abiding by their decisions while retaining the right to review them in meetings etc. were tried out in practice.

Democratisation of education also took the form of unprecedented public participation in debates on educational issues and the formation of organisations by teachers, students and others. A large number of journals came to be published in which educationists, teachers and students debated issues and narrated their experiences. All these fed into public policy formulations and greatly influenced changes in those policies. In addition the popular student and teacher organisations conducted campaigns around key issues which often were critical of the policies being pursued by the Commissariat of Education or the Soviets. Even though much of this happened in forums aligned to the Bolshevik party and the Komsomols (Young Communist League) a large number of organisations representing other viewpoints too flourished. The Commissariat took much trouble to ensure that those who held opinions contrary to its own were not victimised. However, this space got considerably reduced during phases of purges and ‘Cultural Revolution’ when right wing or even independent viewpoints were treated as ‘bourgeois’ and victimised.

Structural Reforms in the period of ‘War Communism’

After nearly a year of intense debate over policy matters, the Commissariat announced its policy and programme for the future of Soviet Education in 30th September 1918 (Declaration and Statement on Unified Labour School – passed on 30th September and published on 16th October). Even earlier in the year some key decisions had been announced. These pertained to abolition of exams and the system of awarding marks and certificates and also to the introduction of co-education of the sexes. The declarations on Unified Labour Schools (ULS) were far reaching and ambitious in their scope. Education was to be ‘free, equal, compulsory and universal’ from the age of 8 to 17. Education was to be unified in the sense that there would be a single system of education in place of the myriad of schools (parish, church, agricultural schools, realschule, commerce schools, boys’ gymnasium, comprehensive secondary schools, girls’ gymnasium, and so on). There would be a five year primary section followed by a four year secondary education. This was to be a “single, uninterrupted staircase… All children must enter the same type of school and begin their education alike and all have the right alike to go up the ladder to its highest rungs.” With this ended what Lenin had characterised as the ‘caste’ organisation of education which enabled only the male members of the nobility and the bourgeoisie to pursue higher education, created gender and class segregated schools. Henceforth, children passing out from one level would automatically get admission into the higher level.

The Declaration on preschool education of November 1917 stated that all public education of children must start in the first few months of life. It also stated that pre-school education was to be organically linked with the entire network of educational structure. Pre-school education was considered important not only to prepare children for primary education but as a device to free women of much domestic drudgery and socialising child care. Pre-school education on a large scale was inaugurated in 1919. Eventually the Soviet Union was to build one of the most effective and universal pre-school child care and education system for children in the age group of 3 to 6 years.

Secondary education remained in focus due to the access it gave to higher education, white-collar jobs and positions of leadership in the Soviet society. Recognising the historical disadvantage which children from working class and peasant background suffered due to exclusion from both secondary education and higher education, the Soviet rule resorted to a policy of ‘positive discrimination’ in favour of such children. It was decided that children of Communists, workers, peasants etc were to be given priority in admissions. The policy was to be further streamlined and developed to ensure that more youth from working class background entered institutions of higher learning so as to provide effective leadership in various sectors.

The schools were to function on all days of the week for nine months (with an additional month of open air camps). Every week a day and a half was to be spent on clubs and excursions and a meal was to be served every day. Children were also to be supplied with clothing. There was a strong school of thought according to which upbringing of children was to be socialised and children should live for the most part in the school and function as a commune. It was expected that this will undermine the influence of ‘bourgeois family’ on the upbringing of children. (For example, N.I. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky: The ABC of Communism, Entry no. 79, Preparation for Life) Hence the insistence on a seven day week!

The ‘labour’ component of the policy had been much debated and a working understanding gave it a threefold meaning: it was to be activity based and not simply scholastic or bookish – this was said to be in accordance with the theories of learning; teaching was to be done with and through productive labour and finally the productive labour was not to be confined to one trade or industry but would introduce the students to a wide range of modern production processes and technology. Teaching was to be activity based, with minimal use of textbooks, without any homework, examination or punishment.

The curriculum to be followed was still not well defined. At the elementary level it included mother tongue, mathematics, besides ‘encyclopaedia of culture based on labour process’. In higher levels this was to include sociology based on evolution of social process (social evolution based on modes of production?). Aesthetic education and gymnastics too were to be part of the curriculum. The educationists in the Commissariat preferred a class room process which did not divide children very strictly into age based classes but mixed groups taking up project work, preferably based on productive labour. It also was against a curriculum which was compartmentalised into disciplinary areas like history or geography or math. Instead it visualised an integrated thematic learning centred around productive labour. It also visualised a school which would function as a living collective, with clear collective purpose and vision and communal decision making. These were considered the basis of the creation of a new Soviet and Communist individuals and society.

The 8th Party Congress held in 1919 endorsed the principle of polytechnical education to ‘familiarise the pupils with the theory and practice of all branches of production’. This close relation between study and labour was seen as essential to mould a communist citizen of the future.

Despite all the debates, these documents remained mere pious wishes. The conditions of revolution, civil war and extreme resource constraints had disrupted the functioning of the schools and the setting up of new schools. Enrolment of students and salaries of teachers had sunk much below the pre war level. The commissariat did not have any mechanism for retraining the teachers in the new ideas relating to education and pedagogy. Nor did it have an executive arm to implement its own orders. These were to be implemented by the local soviets. Thus when Krupskaya toured the provinces in 1919 she found she was confronted everywhere with opposition to the new decrees and poor implementation and sheer lack of understanding of what was being suggested. Ideas like Labour School was interpreted to mean getting children to do some useful work like washing clothes, cleaning the toilets, cutting fire wood and transporting water. The teachers still bitter after the long strike and travails of re-election, opposed the most progressive orders from the Commissariat. She wrote, “Nothing is coming from the United Labour School, it is all rubbish…. They understand from ‘democratisation’ the desire for parents’ committees and the independence of the teachers from the Soviets. The basic principle of the ULS, – that it must take into account local conditions, and be built by the teachers together with the people – is completely ignored.”” (cited in S Fitzpatrick, Commissariat of Enlightenment p. 56) Thus the two main ideas of democratisation and curricular reforms were yet to be realised on the ground. It was apparent that the Commissariat had to exercise a more decisive leadership in both curricular and organisational matters.

Nevertheless the year 1919 was to be an important year for Soviet education. Recognising the need to strengthen mass literacy and mass education as a primary objective of Soviet power, a decree was passed in December 1919 ‘On elimination of illiteracy” made it mandatory for soviet citizens under 50 years of age to attend literacy classes and become literate. A massive campaign for imparting literacy was undertaken and it met with a historic success. 1919 was also the year in which the ‘rabfaks’ or four year worker secondary school faculty were established to enable drop-out worker youth to acquire formal education. In the same year the rudiments of kindergartens were also established which were to play a very important role in bringing about universalisation of elementary education. Another major achievement of the Soviet power during the Civil War period was to address the problem of children rendered homeless due to the turmoil. Between 1922 more than four lakh [400,000] homeless children had been brought into residential colonies which became experimental grounds for innovative educators like AS Makarenko.

The Nationalities

The USSR consisted of some very developed non-Russian nationalities like the Ukraine and Georgia. They had a degree of industrialisation and urban proletariat besides an indigenous intelligentsia. They were quick to take charge of their educational matters and even though in constant debate with Russian Commissariat, were in tune with the emerging perspectives in education. However, there were a large number of Central Asian and Far northern republics and regions which were less developed. Most of the Central Asian republics were just emerging from pastoral nomadism and chiefdom with strong patriarchies and Islamic clerical control. The far north was largely dependent upon migrant hunting and gathering and limited nomadic animal herding with their own shamans. In the last phase of its colonial control the Tsarist multinational aristocracy aggressively pursued a policy of Russification of these nationalities forcing Russian language and culture on them.

Their incorporation into the USSR as ‘socialist’ nationalities meant that the union government had an obligation to foster social change in these societies, which required confronting patriarchy, chiefdom and the clergy. The Soviet government to begin with called for education in the native language of the child, thus reversing the Tsarist policy. The problem was that schooling in most of these nationalities if it existed was under the control of semi literate Islamic clergies in the form of Mektebs. The policy of separating religion from public education required the spread of secular modern school networks in these societies, which ensured the participation of all children including girls. This was a difficult task not only because the personnel and the schools had to be created from scratch, but also because most of these languages lacked a script. The first years of Soviet government was spent in developing scripts for these languages with the help of linguists using Cyrillic and Roman scripts. (Subsequently after 1937 there was a switch to Cyrillic to achieve script uniformity across the Union) Anna Louise Strong the American journalist who visited the USSR in early 1920s was effusive on this issue: “Now there is an Uzbek alphabet, reduced to simple Latin characters by learned philologists in Moscow in conference with those few Uzbeks who knew Russian. There are textbooks in the Uzbek language and schools in the Uzbek villages. When the Uzbeks 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 Uzbeks 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 Kutschi, a savage tribe in the Caucasus. And the Migrel and the Lazen and the Imeretiner, – and half a dozen more… 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.”

J Dewey, who also visited the USSR during the same period, was equally impressed: “Aside from immediate educational results, one is impressed with the idea that the scrupulous regard for cultural independence characteristic of the Soviet regime is one of the chief causes of its stability, in view of the non-communist beliefs of most of these populations. Going a little further, one may say that the freedom from race- and color-prejudice characteristic of the regime is one of the greatest assets in Bolshevist propaganda among Asiatic peoples.” This he contrasted with the racism and chauvinism characteristic of European colonial policies.

In Kazakhstan for example, despite the network of mektebs the pre-revolutionary literacy level (1916) was only 2 to 4%. After its incorporation into the USSR in 1920s an extensive system of education encompassing pre-school, primary and secondary schools was constructed, and the higher education system was established for the first time in Kazakhstan. All educational institutions were state owned and controlled and offered education free of charge. The priority in the early 1920s was liquidation of illiteracy and universalising access to education. Educational policies were drafted by the Kazakh Party (Alash) consisting mostly of communist intelligentsia which helped to develop a Roman script for the language in place of the old Arabic script in 1929. (Scripts were developed for a number of minority languages of Kazakhstan too.) The first text books were produced and teachers trained. Subsequently, general primary education was implemented in Kazakhstan, education being provided in the languages of all the ethnic nationalities residing in the territory of Kazakhstan.

The struggle against patriarchy was more difficult as it required a change within families to enable women to stand up for their rights. The readers are recommended a touching novelette by Chingiz Aitamatov entitled Duishen, a moving story of a village Komsomol volunteer teacher who set up one of the first schools.

The Soviet policy towards the nationalities has not been without its critics. It has been charged that the USSR pushed for Roman or Cyrillic script so as to prevent the use of Arabic which may have enabled an alternative Pan-Islamic mobilisation. This is said to have resulted in a loss of access to classical literature generated by the traditional scholars of Central Asia, of such civilizational centres like Bokhara and Samarkand. Likewise it has also been suggested that the Soviet authorities consciously consolidated more languages in Central Asia than there were, again to prevent nationalistic mobilisations like the Pan-Turkic movement. Even if this were true we need to appreciate the potential dangers of Pan-Islamic or Pan Turkic movements in the Inter-War period.

Experimentation with ideas of Progressive and Polytechnical Education

As the Civil War drew to a close and the Soviet power launched the New Economic Policy, the economy gradually began to revive and the Commissariat had the peace to carry forward its programmes. Funds were still a problem as the Central Commissariat and the local Soviets were on strappy budgets. Hence the schools had to charge a fee on students from primary to higher level, between 1922 to 1927. Even though the fee in primary schools was abolished in 1927, it was retained on secondary and higher education. Concessions were given on the basis of student’s class background, but nevertheless it was inhibitive enough to reinforce middle class domination of secondary and higher education. This was the new middle class of salaried employees of the state and NEPmen and prosperous peasants. Financial considerations also severely constrained the prospects of universalising education across the country in terms of opening new schools, appointing teachers, training teachers and providing instructional materials to schools.

However, the NEP period also saw the stabilisation of experimentation in curricular and pedagogical matters. The Academic Council (called GUS) of the Commissariat brought into its fold the leading educationists of Russia – both Marxists and non-Marxists like Blonsky and Shatsky – in order to develop a curriculum for the primary and secondary schools. The primary objective of the Commissariat and the GUS was to develop a common and universal schooling for all children irrespective of trade or class, and to give all future citizens a common basic education. This was not easy as the pressure for immediate employability and the ideal of learning from local context pushed education into old segmented frameworks. Hence schools for white-collar jobs, for training skilled workers in different trades, schools focussing on agriculture, and schools for training state and party leaders, were in great demand. There were also pressures to create special schools for children talented in music, mathematics etc. Even as such requirements were being met on the ground, the Commissariat sought to break free of this ‘caste’ structuring and create a genuinely common schooling which provided all children with a common grounding. While there was less of debate over primary curriculum, the implementation was not easy as the teachers trained and used to old methods had little sympathy for the new ideas and did not feel comfortable with them. However, the bone of contention was the secondary curriculum as it was directly related to the employability and access to higher education.

There were a number of currents of curricular reform which converged on some important points but diverged on a number of key issues. On the one hand there was the well articulated ideas relating to Progressive Education advocated by John Dewey in the USA which sought to bring school and ‘life’ close to each other and advocated real life productive work as an essential component of education but disapproving of the teaching ‘specialist knowledge’ based on disciplines in elementary level. Dewey’s methods were closer to the socialist ideas relating to education. Dewey had been invited to set up the secular public education system in Turkey under Kemal Ataturk and he also visited Revolutionary Russia and expressed his admiration of the direction of reforms. He also remarked on how the Soviet methods differed from the American ‘project method’ etc. and grudgingly acknowledged that implementation of progressive ideas in mass education was made possible by the Socialist convictions of the leadership and the shift from competitive capitalism to socialist economic and social system. (J Dewey, Impressions of Socialist Russia and Revolutionary World, New York, 1929)

Among the Russian inspirations Pavel Blonsky and Stanislav Shatsky were particularly important as they both advocated the principles of integrating productive labour in education and fusion of physical labour, games, artistic activity, intellectual work, and social and communal living. Both of them had a strong background of experimental work during the Tsarist period and had been inducted into the Commissariat of Education, even though they were not known to be Bolsheviks. Both of them also drew upon the mid 19th century Russian educationist, Konstantin Ushinsky who had called for restoring the link between the school and life and for incorporating productive labour in curriculum. According to Zajda “Ushinsky’s educational theory, based on empirical sensualism, concerning moral upbringing, patriotism, work training, and self-discipline, lends itself to an interpretation that is readily acceptable for communist upbringing.”” (Joseph I Zajda, Education in the USSR, Sydney, 1980, p. 8)

Another trend came from working class radicalism which rejected aristocratic education and its emphasis on classical learning and ignoring productive labour. By extension they came to consider all education which placed premium on academic learning as ‘bourgeois’. They wanted an education that trained the youth for labour in the factories and gave them minimal political education. A similar but somewhat different line of thinking was of those who pressed for linking education to the immediate needs of the economy – in terms of training the requisite number of workers skilled in one or other sphere of production.

Most of the old guard Bolsheviks like Lenin were convinced that the working class cannot bypass the knowledge generated in the past and claim the right to rule. It had to master the ‘bourgeois’ knowledge and rework it. Thus mere dismissal of academic learning as a relic of class oppression cannot be an acceptable policy. Lenin tried to impress upon the young radical Komsomol activists of the need to master the entire wealth of past human culture and knowledge as they were given to a radical notion of rejecting all academic knowledge.

At the very outset in 1920 a ‘Recommended curricula and recommended syllabi’ were announced which did away with the Tsarist emphasis on classical languages and Bible. These were replaced by a primary education focussing on Russian, mathematics, Social Science, Life Science, physical and art education. Physics, Chemistry, Geography, and a foreign language were to be added from grade 6th onwards. Quite clearly the earlier classical and religious education of Tsarist gymnasium had been replaced with science. However, these were ‘not obligatory and the schools were able to make considerable alterations to them according to local circumstances.’ (Lunacharsky, On Education, notes, p. 297-8). The educationists at GUS were not in favour of the disciplinary structure of primary and secondary education. They worked on the idea of integrating all the subject areas into a composite thematic course which drew from diverse disciplinary areas and also integrated group work and productive work. A new curriculum for four year primary schooling was announced in 1923. This drew inspiration from the progressive educational thinking in Europe and America which sought to move away from the compartmentalisations of formal education – breaking the school into grades, subjects, and the distancing of school from life.

The cornerstone of the new curriculum was the ‘complex method’, which replaced the teaching of subjects (including reading and writing) with integrated themes. “These themes were to be socially oriented and related directly to the child’s environment and experience of the world. From studying the familiar and domestic in his first school years, the child would progress to a study of the world beyond his own immediate horizons. Each theme was studied under three basic headings: Nature, Society and Labour.” (S Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union 1921-1934 p. 20) The themes were to be such as man, steamboat, sheep, agriculture, day of the female worker, First of May, etc. Each of these was to be studied with reference to nature, labour process and society. Literacy and numeracy were to be acquired not in isolation but in the meaningful context of understanding these themes: “mastery of skills of speaking writhing, reading counting and measurement must be closely linked with the study of the real world; and arithmetic and Russian language must not exist in the school as separate subjects.”” (cited in ibid) Language, maths, art and labour were to be treated only as a means of studying, rather than as ends in themselves. Observation, independent work, excursions, laboratory work and productive work were to be used as methods of teaching and learning. In terms of pedagogy the current favourite were the ‘Methods’ Theory and ‘Universal’ theory; the former saw the aim of school education as enabling children to ‘master methods of perception’ rather than acquisition of knowledge. The latter insisted on giving children the freedom to discover knowledge for themselves rather than being told by the teacher or text books.

Krupskaya was the most articulate advocate of ‘polytechnical education’. In her ‘Theses on Polytechnical schools’ (1920) to the First Party Conference on Public Education, she argued:

“5. Polytechnical education should mainly be provided at the secondary school which is organisationally linked, however, with both the elementary and vocational schools.

6. The elementary school (7-12 years) provides general, mathematics and graphic knowledge and teaches pupils how to transform books, mathematics and drawings into instruments of labour. It teaches how to observe, make generalisations, and verify them through experimentation, while providing knowledge of the basic methods of self education and elementary knowledge of reality (study of nature and society). In the elementary school knowledge is acquired through work… Its character must be that of collective participation in the elementary forms of social labour and it must provide elementary work skills…

8. The secondary school (13-17) years is concerned with teaching general aspects of production and they are studied in terms of both theory and practice. The most basic branches of production are studied, and particular emphasis is made on a theoretical explanation of practical activities. At the same time the history of labour is studied…

9. Practical work during the winter should be industrial in nature, it should be closely linked to work at large factories… During summer it should take place on large state farms etc.”

She had also argued that students would be prepared for streaming only after the completion of the secondary schooling in age 16-17.

To Krupskaya polytechnical education was not a subject to be specially taught but an approach to education which incorporated productive labour in the teaching of all themes and which helped children develop theoretical understanding of labour processes. In this it differed from skill or vocational education which focussed on specific trade related skills, and from conventional academic education which divorced theoretical-subject studies from productive labour. Engagement with productive labour should be done both within school workshop and also in factories and state farms. She elaborated these ideas all through her life as can be seen in her draft of a decision of the Commissariat on ‘reworking labour education programmes’ in 1932.

The role of productive labour in education and the nature of such labour was a subject of much lively debate in those eventful years. Lunacharsky, referring to the interpretation of labour school during the period of War Communism in which children were expected to ‘work for themselves’ (carting firewood and cleaning premises etc) said in a debate in the House of Soviets in December 1922: “but if today children are chopping wood, getting the dinner carrying water and doing exactly the same tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, then the result is not any great mental development or even physical developments. It is work of a pretty deadening nature. We communists strive to get rid of this kind of work altogether.” This may have been justified by the hard conditions of Civil War but not any longer. Instead, Lunacharsky argued “that educational value attaches only to work of a specific kind, work through which more and more useful skills are learned, acquired and established, and which also yields an appreciable amount of knowledge gained, along the way and just because the child is working.”” (Lunacharsky On Education, pp. 127-8) The Commissariat recommended work as an educational experience and not work for the sake of carrying on basic tasks of life or for the maintenance of the school. In the early primary stage labour was to overlap with children’s play. “Play is a method of self-education… the whole task of the kindergarten and of the first years at school is to help children to play usefully! When children dance sing, cut things out, mould material into shapes, they are learning. Those in charge of them must so choose their games that every day a fresh knowledge is emerging, every day the children are gaining something, everyday they are able to learn this or that small skill… (F)rom play the transition must be made to work, in the widest sense of the world” (Lunacharsky, op cit ppp. 97-8)

The curriculum for secondary grades (grade V to IX) sought to combine the ‘complex’ method with disciplinary knowledge. Physical and life sciences were grouped under Nature study and history and literature were put under Society study. Labour became a separate subject focussing on theoretical aspects of production like technology, organisation of production and the history of labour. Language and mathematics continued to be treated as a part of other subject areas. Indeed it was claimed that ‘math in itself does not have any educational value in the school’. Subject based teaching was still discouraged. Lunacharsky seemed to be influenced by Dewey in rejecting the need for ‘specialist knowledge’ (or systematic teaching of subject areas) in secondary schools. “The secondary school exists in order to initiate the student in the basic labour and cognitive methods and the basic approaches to labour and knowledge of all kinds that he will use later in life.” (cited in S Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union 1921-1934 p. 22)

The commissariat constantly faced criticism for its pursuit of such radical educational ideas. On the one hand most of the teachers had been trained in the old methods of teaching and did not take easily to the new ideas. The commissariat did not have the resources to organise en masse retraining of the teachers. The progressive ideas were often interpreted as a licence for a lot of aimless activity and little teaching. The result was felt to be a chaos and lowering of the learning levels of children. Institutions of higher learning and employers constantly complained of poor learning by students graduating from the new Soviet schools. While there may be some truth in them, these complaints appear to be stock in trade of all evaluations of education systems across world and across the century. A century down the line from different parts of the world we hear similar complaints and these need to be seen more as outcomes of misplaced expectations from mass education systems rather than a true evaluation of the performance of those systems. Indeed very similar complaints were made even in the USSR on the eve of major curricular changes in 1923, 1927, 1931 and 1956.

In fact studies which went into the education of the scientists responsible for the Sputnik, showed that they were products of the pre- 1930 schooling. In other words the education of the generation that launched the Sputnik (an event which got the western world worried about the state of its mass education and science education in particular), belonged to this ‘progressive’ or ‘anarchic’ period of Soviet education! In many ways this was also the generation that led Soviet industrialisation and the anti-Fascist War to victory. In other words we cannot judge the impact of a kind of schooling just by the immediate perception of its output. The generation which went to school between 1920 and 1932 had received a special input which stood the infant worker’s state in the process of socialist construction under extremely hostile conditions. Let us now turn to this.

The generation between 1920 and 1930 saw three major shifts in the social evolution of post revolutionary Russia: the civil war, the NEP and the beginning of planned industrialisation. These three momentous social experiences infused the generation with deep and complex social experiences; experiences in which the youth was not at the receiving end but was actively shaping them through their collective action.

Despite constant debate and changes, there was a broad continuity in curricular and pedagogic matters till 1932 when major shifts were brought about. Continuity consisted of rejection of disciplinary boundaries, use of the so called ‘complex’ or thematic-project method and engagement with productive work both inside and outside the schools. It was also a period when students and even teachers were freed of bureaucratic controls and were free to plan the work of the school.

With the coming of the First Five Year plan and collectivisation of agriculture major upheavals occurred in both the cities and the villages. At this juncture the Party initiated the ‘Cultural Revolution’. The students and the youth in general participated with much enthusiasm in this and this was to transform the educational landscape and radically reinterpret the new curriculum and pedagogy initiated by the October Revolution.

The year 1928-29 also saw a change in the leadership of the Commissariat as Lunacharsky resigned over differences on two major issues: one related to shifting of control over technical institutions to the Industry Commissariat and over aggressive purge of students belonging to children of disenfranchised social groups from schools and institutions of higher learning. The Komsomols had been critical of what they considered to be rightist and bureaucratic handling of educational affairs by Lunacharsky mainly due to his defence of general education at the secondary level. The Cultural Revolution was marked by an aggressive literacy campaign both in the town and country and also a move towards activation of the ‘educational soviets’ drawing upon the initiative of workers, teacher activists and Komsomol personnel. Indeed it was considered that they would replace the department of education altogether, though this was rejected by the Soviet government.

Lunacharsky was replaced by AS Bubnov who inducted some of the more radical intellectuals like VN Shulgin into academic leadership. They had been complaining that while Soviet adults were experiencing the revolution, the children were being deprived of this experience as they continued to go to school which functioned much the same hierarchical way as in pre revolutionary times. Shulgin was of the opinion that children should be schooled in real life rather than in class rooms; that the school should ‘wither away’ under conditions of socialism and the alienation experienced by children in bourgeois schools should come to an end. He believed that social environment played a great role in shaping individuals and hoped that exposure to the revolutionary social environment of post-revolutionary Russia would facilitate the shaping of future socialist human beings. This meant that children should become part and parcel of construction of socialism and its struggles instead of spending their time within the four walls of the class room and studying books under the tutelage of an authoritarian teacher. He wrote in 1927,

“The school is ceasing to be a school, is withering away as a school… The teacher is withering away…. A specialist in a given branch of labour will work [with the children in the factory or in other production situations]. True, he will at the same time be an educator. But that is a completely different thing. He will not be a teacher at all. And there will be nothing for him to do in the school…” (quoted in S Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union, p. 143) This raised serious questions about the role of schooling and teaching especially in the secondary stage in education and upbringing. Shulgin wrote in the midst of a serious debate on the relative merits of general secondary schooling and apprenticeship schools attached to factories in 1928-9: “The secondary school stands on the edge of a freshly-dug grave. It is so obvious. Students in their hundreds and thousands are leaving and, after all, this is only the beginning… [The apprenticeship school] will go on and on attracting students, not just for one year – and what will happen then? A new poly-technical school, our school, will grow. It was born in the factory, and it is there that it will grow to full strength.”(ibid, p. 148-9) He advocated that what the Komsomols and Young Pioneers did outside the schools (participating in social-political campaigns and economic construction) should become integral to the ‘project method’ of teaching in the schools. In other words students should learn by participating in the larger campaign for literacy, collectivisation of agriculture and industrialisation. In 1930 the Congress on Polytechnical education resolved to link even primary schools with neighbouring factories, collective or state farms. These in turn were to become the patrons of the schools introducing the children to production process and also using children’s labour. This had varying success as many factories were reluctant to take on this additional responsibility while others short of hands welcomed it. Use of child labour became rampant in collective and state farms which could always do with some extra hands. As a result children spent less hours in the schools learning and more hours out of school. Out of school work not only included work in the factories and fields, but also active participation in literacy campaigns where children had to mobilise and teach reluctant adults of the towns and villages.

Within the schools too traditional methods of teaching and even textbooks were looked down upon as relics of Tsarist schools. Instead it became fashionable to talk of ‘loose leaf books’ – or worksheets to made as per requirement by the teacher and handed over to the students for self study/task assignment. Yet another new idea in the field of text book was the ‘journal textbook’ – a journal which published text materials in ten issues a year so as to keep pace with the changes in ideas relating to the subjects and teaching. On the eve of the second five year plan the Commissariat had drafted even more radical proposals to send children to do paid labour and make their school self sufficient.

On the ground itself the actual realties were complex and diverse – ranging from enthusiastic adoption of the new ideas, selective implementation and even more radical experimentation to conservative continuation of old methods of textbook and subject based teaching. All said and done the students got a first-hand experience of revolutionary struggles being waged in the real life outside, during those heady days of debate, experimentation and mass engagement in struggles over industrialisation and collectivisation.

This could not last long though. In 1931-32 the Central Committee of the Party and Stalin personally seriously addressed issues relating to school education and sought to restore order and normalcy in the schools. The Central Committee took note of the fact that teaching in schools had been adversely affected by a number of developments: the complex-project method which rejected teaching of subjects in a systematic manner, the denial of class room discipline and the authority of the teacher, the rejection of text books, excessive political engagement of students outside of the schools, constant purging of students and teachers from non-worker- peasant backgrounds… etc. This had led to what was seen as insufficient learning outcomes on the part of the graduates of schooling. The new commissar of education, Bubnov conceded in 1931: “It must be said with the greatest severity that the 7-year school is not giving an adequate educational preparation for the technicums….” (quoted in S Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union, p. 221) The central Committee moved in decisively with several resolutions between 1931 to 1935: ‘On Elementary and Secondary Schools’ (25th August 1931) and ‘Concerning Curricula and the daily time tables in Elementary and Secondary schools’ (25th August 1932), ‘On the study programmes and regime in Elementary and Secondary schools (25th August 1932), ‘On textbooks for the elementary and middle schools (12th February 1933), ‘on the overloading of school children and Pioneers with social and political tasks’ (23rd April 1934), two resolutions on teaching of history and geography in schools (May 1933) and several other resolutions.

The 25th August 1931 Resolution called attention to the serious state of elementary education: “it does not give a sufficient amount of general knowledge, and does not adequately solve the problem of training fully liberate persons with a good grasp of the bases of the sciences (physics, chemistry, mathematics, national language, geography etc) for entrance to technicums and higher schools.”” It denounced the ‘complex method’ and also the idea of deploying children outside of school in the name of ‘withering away of the school’. It called for restoration of teaching of these basic subjects and introduction of firm time tables.

The Central Committee still stuck to the principle of Polytechnical education in the August 1931 resolution. “In view of the fact that polytechnical training is a component part of communist education  … the commissariats are recommended to develop a broad network of workshops and work rooms in schools during 1931 and combine this activity with attaching schools to enterprises, state farms, machine tractor stations and collective farms on the basis of agreements.” However, it immediately added, “Instruction and productive labour should be combined in such a way that the pupils’ socially productive labour is subordinated to the schools educational objectives” (cited in N Krupskaya, On Labour Oriented Education and Instruction, Moscow, p. 105) In other words it wanted to ensure that the primacy of subject teaching should not be compromised.

The 1932 resolutions were even more far reaching: the practice of work brigades being sent to factories, and state farms were to be discontinued and instead class room teaching was to be the pivot of schooling. Students were to be regularly examined in each subject before being promoted. School discipline was to be restored and students who persisted in insulting teachers or violated school administration’s instructions were to be expelled.

In 1933 the Central Committee came down heavily upon the loose leaf text books and the journal textbooks. It ridiculed this regime and called for publishing firm textbooks; in fact common text books were to be published for all the constituent republics for all subjects except the ‘local region studies’.

The 1934 resolution deplored the practice of sending school children to work in the name of social work; children’s free days and time ‘must be used entirely and only for recreational purposes (walks, skiing, skating etc)’

To Krupskaya’s chagrin this emphasis on formal learning of subjects was accompanied by gradual weakening of the ‘polytechnical’ component. The schools were ill equipped, and the teachers ill prepared to handle the requirements of polytechnical education and the factories under pressure to complete their plan targets were not keen on entertaining the mass of children. Despite the lip service paid in the 1931 resolution polytechnical education was given a formal burial in 1937. A Khrushchevite book on the history of polytechnical education in the USSR recounts the events thus:

“The way in which labour instruction had been tackled in the general education schools was in sharp contrast to the steadily rising level of instruction in general subjects. Lack of qualified labour teachers and poor technical equipment in the workshops had led to a situation in which labour instruction bore a craft character, was divorced from scientific principles and modern production and was not serving the purpose of polytechnical instruction. In these circumstances, it had failed to yield positive educational results, and in 1937 it was cut out of the curriculum.” (S. G. Shawvalenko (ed.) Polytechnical Education in the USSR, UNESCO, 1963, pp. 46-7)

A few days before the voting was to take place in the Central Committee on this issue, Krupskaya wrote a passionate letter to AA Zhdanov:

“No matter how poorly organised labour instruction in the schools may have been, it charged children with enthusiasm and disciplined them, as the young people who attended such labour schools when they were 12 to 15 years old; they recall these times with warm feelings…

And now, when the new Constitution is being adopted, when socialism is victorious in our Land of Soviets when all the prerequisites have been created for carrying out the behests of Marx, Engels and Lenin concerning polytechnical schools such a decision (of abolishing labour instruction in schools) should not be taken. Why make it possible for those who opposed this development to say that schools are for studies and not labour and that the Central Committee has decided to abolish labour instruction in the schools?” (N Krupskaya, On Labour Oriented Education and Instruction, Moscow, pp. 110-111)

The Soviet schools thus gradually abandoned the principle of incorporating productive labour into general elementary education in the form of polytechnics. As Krupskaya and Lunacharsky had argued these seemed to be the cardinal tenets of Marxists and socialists down the ages and its abandoning in favour of bifurcation of vocational and general education appears as a betrayal of those principles. In this some theoretical and practical issues need to be addressed squarely. The idea of communist education was evolved keeping in mind a functioning Communist Society in which the distinction between manual and physical labour as well the very idea of division of labour would have disappeared. To what extent is it viable in a society in transition to industrial socialism from a feudal agrarian society? This society in actual fact needed both technical experts specialising in their subject areas as well as skilled workers at a rapid rate. The polytechnical approach did not seem to deliver either. Indeed what exactly the polytechnical approach would be was not really clarified besides the assertion that it was not to be narrow craft based and should combine both theory and practice of a wide range of modern industrial production. At best of times this meant a couple of hours of work in the field or a workshop or kitchen gardening or woodcraft. This was largely left to the schools to figure out. The solutions worked out turned out to be far from satisfactory as they tended to focus on imparting techniques of definite traditional crafts. Disciplinary knowledge is extremely specialised requiring years of intensive study and likewise industrial work requires years of training in a field. Could there be a watered down version of both which could be taught in schools? Would it be meaningful?

Similarly, with the resources available to an economy emerging from war and destruction and trying to rapidly industrialise, without any prior network of modern mass schools worth the name, was it possible to set up schools equipped with full fledged ‘polytechnical’ workshops and trained technical teachers who could combine ‘theoretical and practical knowledge’? Given the higher value accorded to mental labour and white collar professions, would the workers and peasants be content with minimal academic learning and experience of industrial activity? Most importantly can productive work be defined narrowly as work with machines producing tangible products alone? As we enter a new era of labour and production and struggle against capitalism, these questions require a reassessment and the enormous experience of USSR needs to be reviewed anew.

The problem of streaming and secondary education

Democratic societies based on division of labour and stratification have faced the problem of determining the age and stage for terminating common schooling and commencing streaming to prepare children for specific careers. This is not a simple question of age appropriateness as it is critically linked to the question of ‘social mobility’ or right of all children to access education that will enable them to enter the most remunerative profession. Since most hierarchical societies are likely to have fewer positions of higher remuneration, education will act as a filter to give access to some and deny to the rest who in turn will be forced to opt for less remunerative professions. Education thus has dual function of giving access to mobility and at the same time reinforcing social inequality.

As a policy most democratic education systems seek to prolong the period of universal general education, to such a point when children are well into adulthood and can make their own career decisions. This was the consideration that went into decision of the Commissariat led by Lunacharsky to give ten year general education to all children up to the age of 17, an education that would combine both academic study and exposure to labour process.

However, in a society in which highly valued professions are fewer and low valued professions are for the vast majority, most children from poorer background would prefer to drop out and take up some trade or profession once they are past the 14 year bracket. They would prefer not to wait for another five years of education before they learn that they have to work on a low paid job. At best they would like a brief professional training which will help them to acquire skills which will give them the best option in low paid industrial or other work. Employers too would be happy if they get literate and skilled workers. In other words democratic general education at the secondary level runs the risk of being unpopular both among the masses and the employers. As a consequence the world over it is seen that children from economically weaker social groups tend to drop out of high school and either enter employment directly or take up formal or informal apprenticeship courses.

The USSR as we know was not exactly an egalitarian or classless society. As was repeatedly pointed out it had classes (workers and peasants) and there was the division between mental and manual labour. One may add in hindsight two more categories of gender differences and differences between nationalities and communities. Add to them the children of disenfranchised social classes – the aristocracy, priesthood, bourgeoisie, the upper middle classes and kulaks. These differences may have been less exploitative but marginalisation and exclusion would have been crucial issues.

White collar professions in industry and administration were much sought after, but most workers were content to make their children literate and skilled to earn more than what they themselves earned. The Soviet leadership too had its own requirements. It desperately needed a new generation of leadership in industry, economy, administration, intelligentsia, party and society which was proletarian in character and politically committed to socialism. Time and again the unreliable nature of the old ‘bourgeois’ specialists was demonstrated even though the Soviet government had no alternative but to rely on them till a new generation took its place. Proletarian dictatorship in fact was endangered if the proletariat failed to educate itself and assume leadership positions within a very short time. Given a long history of educational deprivation, this was turning out to be a very challenging task. In addition the rapidly expanding soviet industries and townships needed an ever increasing number of skilled workers.

The first decade after revolution thus was spent on intensive debates over the need for and the nature of secondary education. Indeed, whether it should be under the control of the Commissariat of Education or Industry was also a matter of much debate.

During the Tsarist times, students wishing to enter technical and academic higher education (termed VUZys) had to pass out of the gymnasiums. This effectively was accessible only to the aristocracy, bourgeoisie, and salaried middle class. The working class could only aspire for training in trade schools called ‘technicums’ devoted to specific trades or crafts. The initial reforms towards ‘Unified Labour Schools’ sought to replace the technicums with general secondary school which taught besides other subjects, the basic production system in modern industry (polytechnical education). This was not successful due to the resistance of the industrial employers and also working class parents who favoured brief training in a trade before children took employment. Thus a system parallel to the general education continued. This was the vocational education line with trade apprenticeships and technicum to which children could go after completing seven years of schooling.

The Ukrainian Commissariat tried to solve this problem by converting secondary education into a vocational education after which students could either enter employment as workers or enter higher education institutions and technicums. The Russian Commissariat was opposed to this as it meant streaming children in the age of 14 or 15.

An alternative viewpoint was that of the Komsomols which advocated a seven year schooling to be followed by a few years of work experience before students applied for higher education. Higher education was to be open only to about 10-15% of school graduates and the rest were to acquire proficiency on job. The Komsomols were opposed to the Commissariat’s proposal of three year general secondary education and termed it a return to the system of Tsarist gymnasiums.

A new set of institutions called FZUs or Factory Apprenticeship Schools run at the expense of factories and teaching basic industrial skills along with a minimal general education emerged in 1924. In the rural areas, Peasant Youth Schools linked to state farms were set up parallel to the FZUs. Entrance into both of these was open for graduates of seven year general schooling. In the same year ‘vocational bias’ (profuklon) was sought to be introduced into secondary school education with different streams for clerks, accounting, teaching etc. These were widely welcomed by the Komsomols and Soviets and Trade Unions though they were opposed by the Commissariat as a return to forms of old trade schools and reinforcing caste stratification in education (as white collar employee children went to general schools and worker’s children went to trade schools) and a return to early streaming.

This created a peculiar problem for the secondary general education institutions favoured by the Commissariat. While all children attended primary schools for about four years, in 1927-28, more than 50% of working class children dropped out of schooling to enter work. Only 3% children of workers continued into class IX and X. In contrast most children of white collar employees and middle class continued to complete 7 year schooling and more than 23% completed ten year secondary schooling. Effectively this meant that only the middle classes cared to complete secondary education. This on the one hand reinforced the Komsomol critique about secondary schools being bourgeois, and on the other strengthened the argument of Commissariat against early streaming as it would deprive the working class of the opportunity to enter institutions of higher learning and assume leadership roles in society and industry. The Commissariat was correct in so far as most of the workers’ children who continued their education went to secondary schools rather than FZUs or other trade schools. This meant that those workers who could afford to educate their children valued general education more than narrow trade schools. The capacity of higher education institutions (which had declined during NEP) picked up around 1927 and the concern for vocational emphasis in high school declined correspondingly.

The issue of control over technicums, FZUs and institutions of higher education was a bone of contention between the industry commissariat (which eventually employed the graduates) and the Education Commissariat. After much debate and discussion control was transferred to the industry department in 1929; however, the principle of combination of general education and broad based industrial training was accepted by the industry department too. This had been the argument of the education commissariat as it had been very critical of narrow specialisation which turned out ‘conditioned labourers behaving like efficient cogs in industrial machine’ in place of workers who were masters of production and functioned as the ruling class. (Manifesto on Labour Training of the Education Commissariat 1928)

In 1930 as the Soviet economy was in a position to invest substantially in education, schooling was made free and compulsory for all children above 7 or 8 years of age. Four years of schooling in the rural areas and seven years in urban areas became compulsory for all children. (Seven year schooling for all was made compulsory in 1949.)

As a part of a string of crucial decisions to restructure the Soviet education system, the Central Committee resolved in August 1932 to restore the secondary school (classes VIII to X) as a part of the general schooling system to prepare students entering higher educational institutions whether technical or academic. As students migrated from other technical schools to the general school the FZUs attached to factories were reorganised into “professional schools training semi skilled workers exclusively for production.” Students could enter these after completing seven year schooling. These were to be short term courses and graduates were not eligible to enter institutions of higher education. Instead they were obliged to work in the plant for a specified period of time. In addition there were also Secondary Vocational Training schools equivalent of secondary general education schools but focussing on technical/vocational education (for work in industry, agriculture, hospitals, schools etc). However, before entering institutions of higher education (universities etc) they had to serve in any profession for at least three years.

The system of education which eventually stabilised was four years of universal compulsory primary education followed by three years of middle schooling compulsory in the urban areas and optional in the rural areas (till the post war period); streaming was initiated in the eighth year of schooling. Students keen on higher education continued in the general education schools for another three years (total of ten years); students who wished to enter a profession went to the FZUs for short term apprenticeship courses. Perhaps the vast majority preferred to take up short professional and technical courses for six months to one year before taking up a job. The technical stream also had a higher education component (for complex industries like the railways); these were for three to four years duration.

Thus the Revolutionary education policy achieved its stated aim of instituting ‘single, uninterrupted staircase of unified labour school’ combining both academic and vocational dimensions only partially. Universal access was ensured for a seven year elementary education but streaming took place after this, separating opportunities for low paid vocations for the majority and high paid academic and technical professions for relatively lesser numbers.

However this was not to maintain a social hierarchy based on privilege but to service an egalitarian society in which the majority of workers and peasants wanted a minimal general education and vocational qualification. As we shall see in the following section, concerted campaigns were undertaken in 1927-31 to educate workers and peasants as technical experts and develop a strata of ‘proletarian intelligentsia’ with much success.

Vydvizhenstsy, Rabfaks and Positive Discrimination

Two powerful sociological concerns worked to shape the educational policies and practices during the first decade of revolution. The working people especially the workers and poor peasants looked for opportunities for subsidised or free education which will enable them to take access more remunerative employment as skilled workers or in white collar administrative jobs now being opened up for non-aristocratic and non middle class youth. There was thus an intense pressure to open up higher education to such youth in preference over children of the middle classes. Immediately after the revolution, admission to institutions of higher learning were thrown open to all ending the monopoly of gymnasium graduates. However this did not solve the problem as applicants from labouring backgrounds did not have the requisite academic competence to cope with higher education curriculum. It therefore became necessary to introduce mechanisms for preparing them academically for higher education.

A second consideration related to creating a new intelligentsia drawn from workers and peasants. Given the fact that a large segment of the working class did not have formal education, the Soviet power had to rely on ‘bourgeois’ specialists of the old order. It was fairly clear that unless the cream of the working class acquired requisite education it cannot really consolidate its hold over administration and management of the economy and polity. However, it was not possible to wait for the fresh generation of worker children to finish schooling and higher education. As a result of the convergence of both concerns Rabfaks (Workers Faculties) were set up to give an educational course to adult workers so that they could acquire the requisite competence to enter institutions of higher learning, both technical and academic (called VUZs). It was open to all workers who were literate and could do the four mathematical operations. The Rabfaks were established as departments in the VUZs with the express objective of preparing working class youth for entrance into the VUZs. The Rabfaks gave a two to three year preparation which would be equivalent to secondary education of five years. The Rabfaks became immensely popular and in a short period of time prepared a very large number of highly motivated workers between 16 and 40 years of age to enter institutions of higher education. Admissions were given to those recommended by trade unions, party committees, factory committees and the Soviets. While 14 Rabfaks had been established in 1919, the number grew to 62 in 1925. As the Civil War ended, a large number of veterans joined the Rabfaks in the hope of getting ready for responsible positions. About 50000 students were studying in Rabfaks in 1927-28. Between 1921 to 1928 about 2000 to 7500 students graduated every year from the Rabfaks. They became eligible for entry into VUZs which required another five or six year period of study. As per the regulations formulated in 1923, Rabfak graduates were to get priority in admission into the VUZ; of the remaining positions too priority was to be given to Party and Komsomol nominees, nominees to trade unions, civil war heroes, and only ten percent were open for other fee paying students. While it was initially imagined that the Rabfaks were a temporary arrangement to prepare workers to enter higher education institutions, which would be redundant once the normal schooling system was in place, the Rabfaks’ role dramatically increased during the industrialisation drive. It continued almost up to 1940 and became a model for post revolutionary societies in Eastern Europe, China, Cuba etc. The objective of these measures was to create a community of experts who were drawn from the working class and peasantry and had a basic empathy with the objectives of Soviet power. This was also to prepare the workers and peasants for the role of effective leadership in polity and economy and replace the old guard experts whose sympathies lay with the bourgeoisie and aristocracy. (Drawn from S Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility, and Harley D Balzer, Workers Faculties and the development of science cadres in the first decade of the Soviet power, in Stuart Blume et al, Causes and consequences of Cooperation between Scientists and non-scientific groups, Dordrecht, 1987)

Even though peasants were eligible to enter the rabfaks, they had to go to towns for studying. There was no network of similar schools for peasants. Since it was generally assumed that only the rich among the peasants would send their children to secondary schools, they were charged a high fee. After much protest, special Schools of Peasant Youth were established in 1923 to give secondary education to peasant youth with a special emphasis on small scale farming techniques. The Commissariat authorities like Lunacharsky were uncomfortable with the idea of shifting away from the ideal of a common general schooling for all children and feared that is will reinforce the old ‘caste’ divisions encouraging peasant children to remain in their station in life. This fear turned out to be unfounded as these schools enabled two thirds of their graduates to shift from agriculture to white collar administrative positions or pursue higher studies in the universities or technical institutions. Only one third of the graduates went back to tend their farms.

Early Soviet educational institutions almost till the middle of 1930s saw periodic purging of students from secondary schools and higher education institutions. During several phases admission to students from certain social background was denied. During the early 1920s, “Parents in the wrong social categories like Nepmen, priests, kulaks and former nobles were deprived of the right to vote. The children of such parents were likely to be unable to enter secondary and higher education… Workers’ children conversely had preferential access to higher education…” (Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility pp. 25-6) A major purge of students of such disenfranchised social classes was undertaken in the institutions of higher education (VUZs) in 1924. It was reported that prior to it in 1923-24 about 37% of the students were of such background, while students of working class background constituted only about 15% and peasant students about 24%. The rest, about 25% were children of employees. (ibid p. 97) It was felt that this skewed composition of the higher education institutions was having an undesirable influence on those institutions. The purge was also occasioned by the need to trim the size of these institutions as they had been flooded with too many students a large number of whom did not have the requisite aptitude or competence. However, establishing the social origins of students in a society in flux was very difficult. Mixed parentage, abandoned children, pre-revolutionary landowners reduced to labouring status… all these made categorising children very difficult and self defeating. The Commissariat was not in favour of such penalisation of children. Nevertheless, about 18000 students were purged. In 1924-5 the proportion of children of disenfranchised classes amounted to only 19%. The shift in social composition of students in higher education continued well into 1927-28 due to the policy of admissions based on social origin. We are told that working class percentage of all students rose to 27% in 1927-28; peasant students’ share remained at 24%; white collar worker’s children’s share went up to 40%; and the share of the children of disenfranchised parents dropped to 10%. Clearly working class children and white collar employee’s children took a lion’s share of what the erstwhile privileged classes lost. A part of the reason for the rise of the white collar employees’ children in institutions was the charging of fees and very limited availability of scholarships. (ibid. pp. 107-8) This change in social composition also had an undesired consequence of reduction of the proportion of women students as more women belonging to the erstwhile elite social groups went to higher education than from poorer background. Apparently women were concentrated mainly in pedagogical and medical institutions while men dominated the engineering institutions.

The Shakhty affair (1928) in which the ‘bourgeois’ experts employed in Soviet enterprises appeared to have engaged in activities of sabotage, brought home the need to build a new intelligentsia drawn from the working class and committed to the ideals of socialism. This was also the period of initiation of the Five year Plans and collectivisation of agriculture in which the extensive destructive role of the dispossessed kulaks similarly engaged in sabotage. Stalin reviewing the matter in the April Plenum of the Party (1928) urged for proletarian experts and decried the fact that the existing education being divorced from practical experience turned out unemployable technicians. (April 1928, Stalin, Collected Works XI, Moscow 1954, pp. 57-67)

The Plenum resolved: “the party must bring forward Red proletarian specialists to replace elements from the milieu of bourgeois specialists which are alien to socialist construction. That is one of the basic tasks of economic construction, and, unless it is successfully accomplished, socialist industrialisation cannot be carried out” (cited in Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility, p. 119) At this juncture Stalin called for a drive to create a class of proletarian intelligentsia which would have mastered science and technology. Stalin addressing the Plenum said, “…our cadres are being taught badly in our technical colleges, that our Red experts are not being trained properly… Because they learned from books, they are book-taught experts, they have no practical experience, are divorced from production, and, naturally, prove a failure.” (April 1928, Stalin, Collected Works XI, Moscow 1954, p. 63)

It was not enough to hope for the training of fresh graduates. Stalin placed greater faith in providing experienced workers with education in scientific theory. He wanted experienced workers to be sent to institutions of higher education to take courses which help them to fortify their practical expertise with theoretical foundations. “The industrial and technical intelligentsia of the working class will be recruited not only from those who have had higher education, but also from practical workers in our factories, from the skilled workers, from the working-class cultural forces in the mills, factories and mines. The initiators of emulation, the leaders of shock brigades, those who in practice inspire labour enthusiasm, the organisers of operations in the various sectors of our work of construction – such is the new stratum of the working class that, together with the comrades who have had higher education, must form the core of the intelligentsia of the working class, the core of the administrative staff of our industry.” (June 1931, Stalin, Collected Works XIII, Moscow 1954, pp. 69-70)

He proclaimed in 1931: “our country has entered the phase of development when the working class must create its own industrial and technical intelligentsia, capable of standing up for its own interests in production, as the interests of the ruling class.” (June 1931, Stalin, Collected Works XIII, Moscow 1954, pp. 68-9)

Following these pronouncements from the leadership of the Party, significant repercussions were felt in both higher education institutions and schools. The Shakhty affair prompted another round of purge of ‘socially alien’ elements, this time not only from higher education institutions, but even in primary schools. The commissariat leadership (Lunacharsky and Krupskaya for example) had a difficult time persuading enthusiasts that the Soviet power cannot deprive anyone of the right to elementary education and children cannot choose their parentage. However this could not contain the tide of attack on such children and their expulsion from schools during the heady phase of ‘Cultural Revolution’. It had to wait for a while before the highest authorities like Stalin had to intervene and put an end to it. On the positive side right from 1928 autumn admissions, special efforts were made to induct experienced workers into higher technical institutions. 65% of seats went to workers and special courses were organised to help them to cope with the curriculum. Likewise the seats reserved for Rabfak graduates were drastically increased and new institutions were set up to train more worker candidates. This campaign was called ‘vydvizhenie’ (promotion of workers).

Fitzpatrick has convincingly argued that this campaign was not so much as to create a technically qualified strata for industrialisation, as to create such a strata among workers. At the time of revolution most of the workers had been illiterate and the literacy campaigns had spread literacy among them, but this clearly was not enough to put the working class in leadership position in the economy and administration and the army. If proletarian class leadership was to be consolidated the working class, especially the most experienced and political among them had to acquire formal education. Apparently in 1927 only 4% of worker members of the Party had completed secondary education. In the industrial sector: “At the beginning of 1928, 70.3% of all Communist directors in industry were former workers, and 82.3% of Communist directors had only primary informal education. Among the much smaller group of non-party directors, the percentages were almost reversed; 95.1% of this group were of white-collar origin, and 82.7% had secondary or higher education.” (Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility, p. 183)

From 1928 onwards the Party nominated ‘Thousand’ persons from the Party (about 80% of working class origin) and industry to be sent to engineering, agronomical, pedagogical and military institutions, for special study. This was followed every year with its own ‘Thousand’s. The trade unions too sent their own ‘Thousands’ (mainly non-party workers) to institutions of higher education. The lists were drawn up in factory meetings amidst much enthusiasm. Most of these workers had to undergo six month to one year preparatory courses before they joined the higher education institutions. It was claimed that in a year like 1930 more than 55,000 workers and peasants had been so trained and sent to VUZs and technicums.

In addition to these nominated students, throngs of workers were admitted into the institutions during 1928-31 to fulfil the quota for proletarian admissions. Fitzpatrick estimates that in all total of more than 150,000 persons of working class/communist origins were sent to these institutions under the vydvizhenstsy. During this period it was the experienced adults who went into the educational institutions as they needed at least five years of work experience. To cater to this influx the number of higher education institutions was increased dramatically from 152 in 1929 to 537 in 1930.

Having achieved the objective of creating a working class intelligentsia and technical specialists the policy of preferential admission based on social origins was scrapped by 1935. This paved the way for declaration of complete equality of all citizens of the USSR in the Stalin Constitution irrespective of their background or present status. This was accompanied by a massive expansion of both school and higher education opportunities. Apparently the number of students in middle schools had trebled between 1931 and 1938; students in general secondary education were more than ten times those in 1928. In addition part time training courses for adult workers too expanded considerably. All this nullified the need for any further need for social discrimination in education. Post secondary technicums registered an expansion of eight times over 1928. The higher education institutions (VUZs) had expanded more than five and a half times over 1928.

With this we end the saga of Soviet Educational experiments: it may have lived up only partially to the ideals of ‘communist’ education as visualised by Marx or Owen, but it succeeded in ending centuries of educational deprivation of the poorest and opening up for them paths for personal advancement and assumption of responsible positions in society. In the process it unleashed the creative potentials of millions of people earlier and elsewhere condemned to servitude and exclusion.

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The Importance of the October Revolution for Women’s Liberation

NOVANEWS

Dorte Grenaa

Report to the ICMLPO Seminar on the significance of the October Revolution, Stuttgart, June 2017, delivered by Dorte Grenaa, Chair of the Workers ’ Communist Party of Denmark APK

The October Revolution of 1917 and the struggle to build a whole new society without exploitation remains a great source of experience and inspiration for the world’s working class and working people. The October Revolution meant a fundamental change in women’s lives and opportunities. The decisive factor for this was that state power was in the hands of the working class, leading directly after the abolition of the cause of the special oppression of women – the right of private property.

“Ever since private property in land and factories has been abolished and the power of the landowners and capitalists overthrown, the tasks of politics have become simple, clear and comprehensible to the working people as a whole, including working women. In capitalist society the woman’s position is marked by such inequality that the extent of her participation in politics is only an insignificant fraction of that of the man.” (Lenin, The Tasks of the Working Women s Movement in the Soviet Republic, September 1919)

By organizing the whole society around the principle of abolishing the exploitation of people, the Soviet state under the dictatorship of the proletariat worked to abolish all forms of economic, social, cultural and political inequality, including the inequality between men and women that exists in any class society.

The tasks of the young workers’ power, to build the new society after the October Revolution, were enormous. Until then, society had only been developed to serve a small, rich upper class under the czarist regime, the landlords and church.

Most of the population lived in the countryside, in a semi-feudal barbaric society. They lived in poverty, where hunger, sickness, ignorance, oppression and brutality prevailed, where relationships between people were marked by deeply ingrained feudal features. The woman was considered the slave and property of the family and the man. It was said that the peasant treated his animals better than his wife and daughters. In the Central Asian republics, polygamy and the sales of brides were quite normal.

Socialist social development took place at an unprecedented pace and scale, despite all attempts to destroy it both by internal reactionary forces and the surrounding imperialist world. The October Revolution was a tidal wave of revolutionary social power and energy. It set millions in motion to develop the productive forces to create a better material basis for a new society. At the same time, a dialectical process was set in motion to create the most important force – the new free human being.

For the Bolshevik party and the revolutionary movement, it was obvious that this should apply to both men and women.

The Soviet state was aware from the beginning that special efforts had to be made to create conditions to change the situation of women. The State not only put forward equal legal rights, but it created the social structures necessary for women to use these equal rights and practice real equality. Lenin described this both in principle in and concrete detail.

2. The principles of equality in the Constitution, the law and the family

A few months after the October Revolution, a completely new legal system was developed, the foundation of which was women’s full equality in society, work and family life.

A new marriage law was introduced in which the old concept of the “head of the family” was banned and all laws based on the slavery of woman were abolished. Marriage became a private matter between two persons. There was no legal distinction between married and unmarried, registered and unregistered marriages. Also, the hideous patriarchal term “illegitimate children” for children born out of marriage was abolished. All children were given equal rights and considered equal. Men and women were equal in inheritance.

Both women and men were free to choose their life partner, their job and profession. Both parties could retain their original citizenship, their name and their right to self-determination in every detail. Women and men also had the same rights concerning divorce. Both parents were obligated to the care and education of their children regardless of marital status. The Soviet Constitution was the first state in the world to introduce the right to vote to all persons of both sexes over 18 years of age.

The introduction of the principles of equality in the constitution and legislation was a huge sign of a whole new view of the woman as an equal fellow human being and citizen.

3. Women’s work changes character

The Soviet State introduced equal pay for equal work. What capitalism has not yet managed to do for more than a century since the demand was raised, the working-class state implemented in a few months. It gave women the opportunity to achieve economic independence, which they knew from bitter experience was so necessary for their independence.

Many labour rights in production were introduced. The working day was continuously reduced by several hours in the following years. At the same time, it was a working day that included time for vocational education. Social rights covering sickness, unemployment, pregnancy, disability and family support in case of death as well as a national state pension were introduced.

Recognizing that women can also have children, special labour rights and social security were introduced for working women. Many considerations for occupational safety were taken already at the start of pregnancy. Maternity leave was introduced – two months for physical work, six weeks for intellectual work. When she went back to work, the mother had the right to have to breast-feed her baby. Mothers received full pay during maternity leave, as well as special support to cover additional expenses and childcare during the first nine months after the birth of her child.

A society that lacked almost everything, and at the same time reduced working time – something like that had never been seen before. A planned economy was introduced, free of anarchistic capitalist over-production and over-use of resources. In the summer of 1930 it succeeded in eliminating unemployment. The former offices for the payment of unemployment benefit were transformed into centers for planned distribution of labor power.

The first five-year plan’s technological changes in industrial production created new and different jobs for women. Collectivization of agriculture liberated forces that created a new wave of revolutionary energy and mobilized women in the countryside. The cooperatives gave women completely new opportunities to use their abilities and labor.

Before 1917 under the czarist regime, women’s work during the day was characterized by slave-like work in agriculture and unskilled, low-paid women’s work in factories. After working hours women had to work a second, unpaid job at home and with the children.

The October Revolution changed the character of women’s work into organized collective and social work. The development was fastest in large- scale production and state-owned plants, in which the workplaces were tailored to both men’s and women’s needs. The work was combined with education, with the family and children, with residential areas and transport. This development was naturally slower in the countryside, in the cooperatives and in small-scale farming.

4. Access to education on a mass scale

In a society where the majority was illiterate, education had been a privilege for a very few and production had not been developed, education would be a key issue. It had to be developed on a mass scale and at a fast pace, especially for women who had previously been culturally and socially deprived.

All educational institutions were opened to women so that they could improve their practical, social and intellectual abilities. Special support was given to complete education in all sectors. The Soviet state began the construction of an entire polytechnic school system with associated educational institutions, from schools for children to technical schools and working-class universities. At the same time, workers and peasants organized libraries, reading rooms and education in reading and writing in co-operatives, in factories, in the public sector and in residential areas. The whole community was involved in this giant project. For example, children and young people taught grown-ups to read and write as part of the eradication of illiteracy.

For women in the countryside and the cities, participation in education was an opportunity to qualify for more jobs. But it was also a recognition of the fact that women have minds that want to learn, eyes that want to see, ears that want to hear and voices that want to be heard.

The church and religion, which under the czarist regime were an enormous power and a constant source of oppression and overshadowing of women, were now separated from the educational systems. Religion was considered a private matter.

5. Protection of children and mothers – Access to legal abortion

Before the October Revolution, the great majority women did not have the opportunity to give their children a secure upbringing, or to decide how many children they would have. Child mortality was sky-high, women died in childbirth and from having too many children. Women were ashamed and died from illegal abortions carried out in inhuman conditions by quacks.

In 1920 a law gave women access to abortion within the first three months of pregnancy. It had to be performed only by doctors in hospitals and was free for women workers. It was granted for health or social reasons if it could put either the child or the mother in difficulty. The decision was made by a committee consisting of a doctor and two women workers. Such committees were established at every “Women’s Advisory Centre”.

A decade after the legalization of abortion, the Institute for Maternal and Child Protection found that it had not yet been possible to eliminate all dangerous, illegal abortions. They pointed out two different reasons. First, in some places, there were still many culturally disadvantaged women who did not dare to seek access to legal abortion, especially in the countryside. Second, especially in the cities, there was not enough hospital space for everyone who wanted an abortion. But there had been a reduction in the number of illegal abortions and the mortality rate on a quite significant scale.

In the struggle to eradicate illegal abortions and prevent women from needing to have an abortion, the Soviet Union prioritized several elements. These were: to expand the health and hospital services, to ensure knowledge of and access to contraception and to develop a good social care system – and of course the goal-oriented work to provide all citizens with human conditions.

In 1918, the organization of an extensive Mother-Child Care Program me began. For the Soviet Union, the health of the individual was a social concern. Systems and structures were created to ensure that the best health facilities and expertise were obtainable for everyone in society, especially for pregnant women, infants, children and other groups with special needs. Infant and maternity clinics, maternity homes for mothers with infants were created, courses in infant care and children’s clinics were established.

To ensure child care while the parents were at work, the building of nurseries and kindergartens was also considered a social task. They were developed at the factories, in the residential districts and in the villages. Similarly, schools, youth clubs and youth associations were organized.

All these actions were of major importance to women’s social participation and independence.

6. Socialization of house work and collective solutions

For women to participate on an equal footing with the men in the building and administration of the new Soviet state, it was necessary to address the thousand-year-old problem of the double work of a job and the everlasting repetitive housework. The tying of women to individual housework in each family had to be replaced by collective solutions through the socialization of housework.

Public kitchens as collective eating places, collective laundries and shops to repair clothes were created. In 1923, the Department of Public Nutrition, Narpit, was established. It was an initiative to improve the population’s poor nutritional state and to assist in the development of public eating places.

This issue was also considered in the organization of new homes and cities. In 1917 the housing shortage was serious everywhere. In the old working-class areas in the cities neither gas, electric light, water nor sewers existed. People were crammed together in small, dark and humid homes. Now, new towns were being built, where the most advanced building were collective houses. These had common dining rooms, common libraries and reading rooms, common rooms for children where they could play and study. There were only a short distance between work, home, schools, institutions, shops and leisure sports and cultural houses, all with light, air and green spaces in between them.

The transition from individual, small farms to cooperative ones meant the abolition of centuries-old slavery for poor peasant women. Collective farm machinery replaced harsh physical work for women. In the cooperatives, women worked on an equal footing in all kinds of work, such as driving tractors. The cooperatives created crèches, kindergartens and schools. Women gained access to knowledge and education.

In the Soviet Asian republics with deeply ingrained patriarchal feudal clan class societies, it was the youth and young women who took a leading role in the women’s movement, often at great risks. In these republics, it was necessary to create special clubs, schools and reading rooms for women only.

A special form of information work among the nomads was called “the red tents”. With a midwife, librarian and teacher, they went from place to place and taught women to read and write as well as childcare and legal issues. They also organized a workers’ union for women carpet weavers in the existing home industry. In the mountains, similar “mountain cabins” were established.

The issue of women’s liberation and collective life are inextricably connected. Life in small, individual family groups is far more limiting for women than for men. For women, it is harder to overcome the concern for the small family in order to participate in public and social tasks because of her main responsibility for the family’s well-being.

Collective living with shared childcare, household and culture released an immense amount of energy and resources, when millions of women could be exempt from hours of individual work with home and children every day. The Bolshevik Party applied this viewpoint through the power of example and by creating the material conditions for this to be possible.

7. Women’s participation and organization in the revolution

Women workers played a major role in the revolutionary movement from the uprising of 1905. The Bolsheviks worked to organize the women into trade unions. They fought for women’s rights and for the unity in the working class against backward prejudices among many male workers. Mass strikes and demonstrations were organized among the women workers. Women’s demands for equal pay, maternity leave, kindergartens and protection against abuse and violence became an integral part of the Bolshevik Party’s political programme.

In 1914, women accounted for 25% of the industrial workforce; in 1917 it grew to 40%. During the First World War, unskilled women were primarily drawn into the textile industry and the metallurgical war industry. In the October Revolution of 1917, the masses of poor women in the countryside joined the demands for peace, bread and land. The population in the countryside at the time represented 80% of the entire population.

Lenin’s and Stalin’s Bolshevik Party were fully aware that a revolution could not be carried out without women’s participation and support and that special systematic work among women was necessary to achieve this. Either the masses of women would be won for the revolution or lost to reaction.

The Bolshevik women participated in the illegal revolutionary work. Like the men, many of them were arrested and sent into exile in Siberia. During the October Revolution of 1917, Bolshevik women took part in the revolutionary activities. They participated in the armed struggles and fought and died side by side with the men in the Red Guard.

The Bolsheviks’ line in the organization of women was to raise demands for equality and to fight against women’s oppression; but at the same time to explain that the prerequisite for implementing this was a socialist revolution. The newspaper Rabotnitsa, with Krupskaya1 and Kollontai2 as editors, played a special role in training, raising and mobilizing women around this and their role in the revolution.

Even before the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Party had a relatively large proportion of women members, because the Communist Party paid attention to work among women and insured that their abilities and energy would be set free. Conferences were organized to discuss with women workers and peasants how best to carry out this work.

After the October Revolution, the centre of special work among the masses of women under the leadership of the Party became the so-called “delegate assemblies of women workers and peasants”. In each enterprise and everywhere, one delegate was elected for every ten women. The “delegate corps” was formed whose duties were: 1) to inform women about their rights and teach them how to use them, 2) to increase their political understanding, and 3) to prepare them to participate in the work for the socialist society.

The prominent Bolshevik Nadezhda Krupskaya described how women and men changed with the development of the revolution and felt like “masters of production”. In a speech at the joint plenary session of the Communist Party in 1927, she emphasized the enormous and constant continuing development of consciousness that resulted from the October Revolution:

“If we compare a modern village with an old village, we will see that, maybe, in the sense of wealth it has not gained so much, but what do we see? We see the village busy with enormous organisational work. We see a lot of organisations there – village councils, committees of mutual assistance, the Komsomol, Women s Section, etc. We see cooperation that holds a tremendous upheaval in the economy of the village. And so, when you see how the whole village is committed to the new principles of reorganising their lives, then one recalls the words of Vladimir Ilyich – the nail of building socialism is in organisation.”

The Bolshevik Party also made great special efforts to involve and secure women’s participation in the leading bodies of Soviet power at all levels, from top to bottom, and in all sectors to ensure the true democracy that the power of the working class – the dictatorship of the proletariat – created.

8. The importance of the October Revolution for the women of the whole world

The October Revolution changed the view of women and their view of themselves. A new image of women – as equal citizens and fellow-fighters – was created, and it reverberated among all the women of the world.

The official history of the European Union states that European women were given the right to vote because they showed themselves as equal partners during World War I. This is complete hypocrisy and deception. They were not given anything. It was not the least the pressure of the October Revolution and the new view of women that forced most capitalist governments to give in to the women’s long struggle for the right to vote.

Millions of women in the western world had been drawn into production as part of the working class during the First World War. However, without the October Revolution, this would have been regarded as a temporary historical phenomenon. Instead the October revolution meant a great inspiration for the struggle and social participation of women and the working class for their rights and for a revolutionary change.

Only two decades later, Soviet power succeeded in destroying fascism in the victory over Nazi Germany. One of the reasons for this was the changed situation of women under socialism. Women were trained and prepared not only to go into war production and fight behind the lines, but to carry out the same military and civilian tasks as men. The women were no longer only a reserve that could be taken in. The Soviet people had doubled their strength by women advancing as equals.

With the revisionist seizure of power after Stalin’s death and the progressive restoration of capitalism, many of women’s great achievements were also reversed and replaced by setbacks. Today, women of the former Soviet republics face all the problems that women’s oppression under capitalism leads to. The previous great achievements of the October Revolution and the building of socialism are being kept hidden, in the capitalist as well as the former socialist camp.

The enormous progress achieved under socialism demanded an exertion of great dimensions that are hard to imagine today. The society lacked everything that could create the conditions for a better life – bricks to build kindergartens with, books and lights to learn to read, sufficient food for the children, water to wash, machines to produce, raw materials, power plants, infrastructure – and not the least education of an entire population to build a whole new society.

In addition, the progress of women required a showdown with centuries of religious, patriarchal, feudal and male-chauvinist thinking, whose influence had spread into the ranks of the working class itself, and thus, also into the Bolshevik party’s own ranks. The struggle for women’s liberation was and had to be put forward as part of the continuing class struggle under socialism.

If one asks: Did women achieve full equality and liberation in the period of building socialism after the October Revolution, then the answer must be no. It was simply not possible in the historically short period and under such conditions to create and achieve the complete material, political, social and cultural conditions for full equality in all fields. But the fact is that they achieved more than anyone had done before or since.

The October Revolution fully confirmed the theses about the women’s struggle for liberation that the great German Communist leader, Clara Zetkin,3 has summarized. Some main conclusions are:

1) that the struggle for liberation of women workers cannot be separated from the overall struggle of the working class and the revolutionary struggle for socialism; 2) that women’s final liberation can only be won through revolution and the building of socialism under the leadership of the communist party; 3) that women’s involvement and participation are crucial to the victory of the revolution and socialism and that special systematic work among women must be organized and implemented to ensure this.

This is still true in 2017. The ICMLPO’s platform for women’s struggles is based on the same basic theses.

For today’s young women in the European countries, gender equality in legal terms seems to be a matter of course. They have not known anything else. But at the same time they see that the prerequisites for this equality in practice depends on the woman’s class situation and that, as a human right, women’s rights do not apply to all people.

Millions of working women in the European countries and the EU face mass unemployment, inequality, poverty, loss of social rights, the breakdown of the public health, education and social systems that are being privatized only for those who can afford them. Women face violence, maltreatment and sexual molestation; they fear for the future of their children, the threat of war and environmental disasters.

The October Revolution confirms the complete superiority of socialism as a social system, as long as the working class has power. And although socialism does not exist as a system today, we still live in the era of imperialism and socialist revolution, where socialism is on the agenda.

Friedrich Engels, in his work, “The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State”, from 1884, referred to the introduction of private property as the world historic defeat for women. The October Revolution, with abolition of private property, showed and shows the way to women’s world-historic victory.

1) N. Krupskaya (1869-1939) was one of the leaders of the revolutionary Bolshevik movement. After the October Revolution, she played a key role in the development and construction of the new education system, and was Deputy People’s Commissar for Education responsible for adult education and for the development of public libraries. Krupskaya was a member of the Supreme Soviet, of the CPSU(b) leadership and also Lenin’s life partner.

2) Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952) was a Russian communist revolutionary and from 1915 a member of the Bolshevik Party. She became the world’s first woman minister \ after the October Revolution. She was People’s Commissar for Social Welfare and later ambassador to Norway, Mexico and Sweden.

3) Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) played a major role in the organization of German women workers, both as a theorist and leader of the international socialist women’s movement and in the German and international communist movement. In 1910, Clara Zetkin organized International Women’s Day on March 8.

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On the Events in Catalonia

NOVANEWS

Communist Party of Spain (Marxist-Leninist)

The Rajoy Government has more than fulfilled its threats, setting in motion all its repressive machinery as soon as the Generalitat de Catalunya formalized its call for a referendum for October 1st. As has been announced, there has not been a formal suspension of Catalan autonomy nor the military intervention contemplated by the Monarchical Constitution. But there is no doubt that the Government has stretched, at its convenience, what the Popular Party (PP) understands by “legality”, imposing a de facto state of emergency and converting the rights formally recognized on paper: This is the Francoist “force of the rule of law,” which is often cited when a political conflict arises.

Threatened officials, closed websites, seized publications, assaults, acts and rallies suspended by the police, political material confiscated, more than seven hundred mayors persecuted, hundreds of police transferred to Catalonia to search for “evidence” and suppress citizens, a Constitutional Court acting as a simple arm of the Executive, the Prosecutor’s Office threatening detentions that are not within its jurisdiction.

That is the panorama that today envelops Catalonia and all Spain: The threat of a revived fascism that (although it was never truly gone) in the de facto reestablishment of the crime of “illegal propaganda” and which has had its most vivid advocate in an exultant Catalan PP, that dances and whistles of ecstasy of the announcement of the seizure of one hundred thousand political posters. Our comrades, the ones who suffered prison and torture for what were also crimes under fascist “legality,” know full well what this means.

This does not stop the Government, just the opposite, it clings cynically to the defense of its “legality”: The same “legality” that the Popular Party violates with impunity or interprets at whim as many times as necessary. This is demonstrated by its more than 1,300 proposals; but, above all by the express reform of article 135 of the Constitution, enforcing payment of the national debt; the insertion of Spain into the military structure of NATO (against the outcome of the 1986 referendum); the secret agreements with the US and, now, with Saudi Arabia. Not to mention the social rights included in the monarchical Constitution in order to have it pass as democratic, which are systematically ignored.

On the other hand, the Catalan nationalist bourgeoisie, appeals to the solidarity of the peoples of Spain, but knows that without a radical change, a rupture, with the regime of ‘78 which it helped to settle, it is impossible to exercise the right of self-determination. However, throughout those years (the last time being in 2012, when CIU deputies supported the Rajoy’s brutal reforms, including the labour reform) it has given support to a regime that in times of crisis has always shown its true reactionary face. Is it any wonder that most workers consider that this is a political bet wagered between two bourgeoisies outside of the interests and most deeply felt needs of the people?

There is no turning back: After the gag laws, Rajoy’s supporters have found in Catalonia the pretext to give another twist to the process of degradation of democratic rights and the fascistization of the State. If the Government is unable to seek a political solution it is because it does not want to – in order to further oppress the popular classes for it is the executive arm of the interests of the oligarchy — nor is the allowed with the framework of ‘78. On October 1, will lay bare the true nature of the bourgeois state, which in situations of profound crisis gets rid of its democratic garb to appear as the naked instrument of the domination of one class over the rest. It also demonstrates, as we communists have repeatedly said, that the monarchist regime of ‘78 is irreformable, a barrier to democratic and social rights and a prison for the peoples.

For this reason, the referendum on self-determination in Catalonia (more than possible independence) can be a point of rupture that puts in check the monarchical State. It may be so, despite the fact that the rush of some leading separatists — who considered themselves “disconnected” from Spain even before the referendum – give the whole process certain comic opera tone; irrespective of the outcome of the vote, if there is a positive result; and it may be so because it has managed to revitalize the broad and dynamic popular movement that gave it its drive in the first place.

Starting from this base, one has to emphasize the lamentable performance of the Spanish “Left,” as always playing the role of his majesty’s loyal opposition. That in a question of principle, as is the right of the self-determination of the peoples, the “leaders” of the “mainstream left” choose to back down, shielding themselves in formalities, is already serious problem; but that they demand a “conditional referendum” under the monarchic regime is unworthy and demeaning. The problem is not technical, but ideological and political: They simply have no alternative program to the ‘78 regime. As was demonstrated in 2014, at a time of popular struggle, when they evaded coming down clearly in favour of the Republic in the midst of the announced abdication of Bourbon king. Now that same lack of response is again evident, when the State clings to a law that is a dead letter to justify its repressive escalation.

That an immense majority of Catalans wishes to exercise their legitimate right to self-determination, whether “legal” or not, is undoubtedly the case, as is they will at least try to put it into practice on October 1. It is not the task of revolutionaries, of course, to examine the technical aspects of the matter, just as the fight for democratic rights and against fascism is not exclusively the job of the Catalan people.

What we now have to do, therefore, is to apply all our energy to deepen the political weakness of the monarchical State, to advance a rupture with the rot inherited from the Franco regime. This is a task that engages all Spain, and that is concretized in supporting without distinction the right of the Catalans to decide their future; to combat coercion and the infringement of rights; to denounce the manifest incapacity of the State to face the crucial problems of our peoples and our class; and to promote a broad anti-fascist and republican front, which will boost the rupture with the regime based on a general response to the repressive wave of the PP, regardless of the result of the referendum.

These are the tasks we call on all people and organizations that consider themselves to be left-wing to jointly develop.

Communist Party of Spain (Marxist-Leninist), Executive Committee

Madrid, September 19, 2017

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Countering Hate Politics

NOVANEWS

 

Simin Akhter Naqvi

Supremacist forces essentially play on our sense of vanity and our desire to externally reinforce parochial notions of cultural identity. When we see our immediate identities threatened, we are bound to react in self defence. The victory of divisive communal forces is in being able to make us see ourselves essentially and primarily as Hindus and Muslims, Men and Women, Hindi speaking and non-Hindi speaking, and as beef eaters and non-beef eaters, much before we see ourselves as rich or poor, workers or owners of capital, or as privileged elite or marginalized underclasses. Having achieved this, it is then not too difficult for them to turn this sense of exclusivist identities into antagonism and hatred. It is therefore necessary, that to counter supremacist arrogance we turn hatred around into constructive social dialogue and respond to propaganda with humility and sanity.

According to the Sachar committee report, Muslims in India are by far the poorest and educationally most deprived. More than 46% of Muslims concentrated in self employment in urban India in 2011 and only 13.5% employed in regular wage employment (NSSO, 2011). Educationally, 42.7% Muslims are illiterate as opposed to a figure of 36.4% for Hindus, according to census 2011 data. Only 2.75 % of all Muslims have studied till graduation or further and according to a Ministry of Minority Affairs report uploaded on the Ministry’s website n the 27th of July, 2017, “The recruitment of minorities in Government, Public Sector Banks, Public Sector Undertakings was 8.57% in 2014-15. Religion-wise data as well as employment in Private sector are not maintained”. Who then, can this deprived and backward community of barely 14% of all people, threaten?

It was also asserted that Muslims are all set to witness some sort of a population explosion in the decade to come. 2011 census data pertaining to population growth of Muslims was released by the government in 2015, stating that the average rate of growth of Muslim population for the decade 2001-11 was 24%, 6 percentage points higher than the national average of 18%. A Times of India report asserted that the rise was mostly due to an explosion of Muslim population in Assam and deliberately linked the increase to illegal immigration of Bengali speaking Muslims from Bangladesh into West Bengal and Assam. What was however, not reported was that the rate of growth had actually come down from 29% in the previous decade (1991-2001) to 24% in 2001-11, a natural correlate of increasing levels of educational attainment, and economic and social mobility. Is it not then, well within the interests of those who feel threatened by a rise in Muslim population to in fact help provide the community greater access to education and formal labour markets, in keeping with the spirit of Article 46 of the Constitution which states that, “The State shall promote, with special care, the education and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people”, so that like any other socio-religious group they transit to a higher average level of income and educational attainment, and consequently to a greater degree of secular social integration and smaller average family size?

The All India Muslim Personal Law board has taken a very bold and long overdue step in accepting and undertaking in an affidavit to the hon’ble Supreme Court in May this year, that ‘talaq e biddat’ (or instantaneous triple talaq) is an undesirable practice, and that the board will issue an advisory against it. Similar reflection and reform must also be carried out on questions of Polygamy and ‘nikah halala’, for though politically tragic and unfair, it is only then that the community can raise the more important questions of educational deprivation and denial of equal work opportunity. The terrain of this argument may not be rational, given that polygamy by way of illegal second marriage is more a matter of economic affordability than religious sanction and is common among people of all religions in India, if NFHS data is to be considered. Culturally, however, this is the only way the right wing’s propaganda can be challenged. Hate can only be countered with humility and criticism must be turned around into constructive reflection.

Alienation and ostracization of Muslims or any other social group, based on cultural and religious practices only leads to social disintegration, ghettoization of living spaces and only furthers the cause of exclusion in education and economic marginalization. The more the minority community closes up within, in response to attempts at communal polarization, the more it serves the ends of divisive communal forces. Majoritarinism cannot be countered by a similar ‘minoritarian’ assertion of cultural supremacy or rigidness, for they follow the same inverted logic of non-tolerance of difference and negates the continent’s long history of syncretic socio-cultural evolution. Which means, any attempts being made to overarch a pan-Hindu unity in the face of a projected cultural/economic threat from the Muslim ‘other’, must be countered with a secular socio-political mobilization of the working poor; Dalits, Mahadalits, Muslims, women, Tribals, Transgenders and everybody else on the margins of society. It is not coincidental that from Rohith Vemula to Akhlaq and Junaid, and from Dadari and Mewat to Una, Mehsana and Rajkot, those who have been persecuted and lynched at the hands of bigotry and hate were all from a certain economic strata. They were Dalits and Muslims but before that they were poor, which is what made them vulnerable; and so it is in this understanding of the class-dynamics of the practice of politics of hate and bigotry, that the answers to the ongoing attempts of communal polarization of society must be explored.

Migrant Bengali workers are being projected as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and held down in despise as the social benchmark ‘other’. The working classes are thus, being divided into ‘our poor’ and ‘their poor’ and it is this aspect of our social identity that secular forces need to reclaim. When social sector budgets are rolled back, it is the ‘poor’ who are hit. When expenditure on public health and NREGS was cut down, it is the poor who were thrown off the social security net, it is the poor who were hit by loss of jobs when demonetization was enforced last year and it is the poor who will be hit when higher education is privatized. An appropriation of the identity of the ‘poor man’ (and by deliberate corollary that of the ‘poor woman’) by the right wing in popular imagination is what will ultimately fulfill their political project of divide and rule and it is precisely this that needs to be resisted, by forging a strong and politically robust social and cultural unity of the social ‘underclasses’, for the project to be defeated.

Posted in IndiaComments Off on Countering Hate Politics

Tunisia: “What are we waiting for?

NOVANEWS

A new campaign to reject the austerity policies of the ruling coalition

The announcement of the entry into force of some measures provided for by the finance law that has just been adopted by the Tunisian parliament with a reactionary majority triggered a wave of protest throughout the country.

Even before its presentation in parliament and when it was discussed behind closed doors in specialized committees, the Popular Front, which was constitutionally the chair of the Finance Committee, warned publicly against the anti-people measures it contained and had no purpose other than to place the burden of the crisis on the working classes. In November, through the massive distribution of leaflets and the holding of meetings and rallies throughout the country, the leaders of the Front alerted the workers and the poor about the difficult days ahead.

Throughout the month of December, during the debates on the new state budget, the Front’s parliamentary bloc was very enterprising, multiplying the interventions inside and outside the parliament to denounce it for fighting against the people. But this did not prevent the reactionary alliance in power from passing the new budget and the new finance law with a large majority on December 31, 2017.

The next day, the first price increases were announced. The Workers’ Party issued its first statement, considering that the government had just declared war on the people. And since then the positions opposing the new government measures follow one another. They emanated not only from the Popular Front and its various components, but also from a number of political parties and civil society organizations.

On the morning of January 3, the walls of the capital and the big cities were covered by the same slogan “What are we waiting for?” wrote hundreds of young people during the night, announcing the start of a protest campaign with the same name. During the day, the first youth gatherings were held simultaneously in several cities to explain the objectives of the campaign.

They explain that this campaign was decided by a revolutionary youth who lost all confidence in the authorities and in their pompous promises made during elections; and that if it comes right after the increase in the prices of basic materials, it is organized around broader demands:

<> – a reduction in commodity prices,
– social and health coverage for the unemployed,
– increased subsidies for needy families,
– the immediate hiring of at least one member of each of these families and the provision of social housing for the poor,
– the development of a national anti-corruption plan,
– the cessation of the privatization of public institutions,
– the development of a fairer tax policy,

and in the immediate future, the suspension of the application of the new finance law until an alternative is found that would take into account the interests of the working classes.

As soon as it was launched, the campaign was favorably received by growing numbers of young and old. Today it is gaining momentum and attracting new social categories, namely all those who feel aggrieved not only by the latest governmental measures, but by all the anti-popular policies that have been carried out by successive governments for seven years, in favor of a comprador bourgeoisie whose only objective is to put an end to the revolutionary process that began in 2011.

But what is further fueling the protest is the reaction of the authorities who responded with police violence alone in the hope of killing the movement in the bud. In the suburbs of the capital, night attacks have been organized against police stations, against riot patrols, but also against department stores and bank branches. The clashes even caused the death of a young man hit by a police vehicle in the city of Tébourba (western suburbs of the capital). More than a thousand young people have been arrested and a series of trials is being prepared.

The Workers’ Party and the Popular Front have not hidden their support for this protest movement; on the contrary, their leaders have multiplied calls to the people to take to the street and speak out against the neoliberal policy led by the ruling coalition that wants to bring alone the consequences of the chaotic business management of the country. The demonstration organized by the Popular Front on January 14 in the center of the capital gathered a few thousand citizens; other forces took part, including activists of the campaign “what are we waiting for?” Similar movements have been organized in the main cities of the country (Sousse, Sfax, Gafsa, Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine, Bizerte, etc., 16 cities in total, north and south).

A campaign of demonization of the Front and its leaders is being organized through the media in the pay of the government (as in the good old days). In the sermons of Friday, January 12, in the five thousand mosques scattered throughout the country, the order was given to “imams” to denounce the Popular Front and consider it a troublemaker; some remarks were close to incitement to crime. The answer was not long in coming. The local workers’ party in the village of Aroussa (north west of the country), the birthplace of Hamma Hammami, was burned down the same evening.

In return, a broad coalition of political and social forces has emerged around the popular front and has set itself the immediate goal of suspending the application of the finance law, with a view to revising it. If that succeeds, it will mark the end of this government, and the beginning of a new stage of struggle.

Posted in TunisiaComments Off on Tunisia: “What are we waiting for?

Problems of the Revolution in Latin America

NOVANEWS

Final Declaration of the 21st International Seminar: Problems of the Revolution in Latin America

The October Revolution, its Lessons for the Workers and Peoples

100 years ago the Russian proletariat marked the path which the workers and peoples of the world must take to win their emancipation. Its mark is indelible, despite the efforts of those who have tried by every means to remove from memory the day when the workers discovered the sun in the midst of the night.

The socialist revolution of 1917 was the historical response of the revolutionary proletariat to capitalism and to all societies based on regimes of exploitation and oppression, turned a social aspiration and a political prediction into reality. It was the practical confirmation of the validity of the theory of scientific socialism, Marxism, elaborated by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, and its analysis of the inevitability of the decadence and collapse of capitalism, of the role played by the working class, and of the flourishing of a new society characterized by social equality, progress and well-being for labouring classes: socialism, the first step towards communism. October 1917 gave birth to a new era, the era of imperialism and proletarian revolutions. Therein lies its international historical character. Since then capitalism has undergone many changes; there has been a huge scientific and technological development, productive processes have evolved, but none of this has changed the essential nature of capitalism, its fundamental contradictions, the exploitation of human beings. These have, in fact, intensified, as have inter-imperialist contradictions and the contradictions between imperialism and dependent countries and nations, the same factors that were present when the Russian workers defeated first a monarchical and then a bourgeois regime.

The Bolsheviks, under the brilliant leadership of Lenin and Stalin, left a huge legacy to history. They demonstrated how the proletarian revolution is to be organized: Acting with tactical flexibility while maintaining the strategic objective; finding creative answers to the concrete social situations; relying on the initiative of the masses; fighting every manifestation of opportunism and revisionism; using all forms of organization and struggle, but understanding that it is only through the organized revolutionary violence of the masses that the power of the class enemy can be overcome. At the same time, they showed that in order to achieve this it is imperative that the proletariat be organized as an independent class in a party of a new type, the communist party. This revolution, understood as the process prior to the conquest of power and the period of the construction of socialism, gave a significant theoretical advance to Marxism, developing it according to the needs of a new era. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin raised Marxism to a new stage, to Marxism-Leninism, which then became the guide of the proletariat and the peoples in their struggle for revolution and socialism. Together with Joseph Stalin, these strategists of the revolution and the construction of socialism gave an invaluable theoretical and practical contribution to Socialism.

During the years in which Marxist-Leninist principles guided the process of construction of socialism, it demonstrated its superiority over capitalism in all fields, economic, social, scientific, cultural, and sports. Socialism demonstrated its ability to meet the needs of workers, for their conversion into a ruling class. It provided access to land to millions of people; emancipated women from patriarchal oppression and feudal and bourgeois exploitation; liberated nationalities from national oppression through the exercise of the right to self-determination; recognized the collective rights of peoples, until then nonexistent on this planet; liberated the repressed potentiality of youth. The Revolution gave access to science, letters, art, and culture, to those who formerly lived in ignorance. A planned economy established the rational use of productive forces and natural resources. It awoke an entire people that now felt themselves the creators of a new world. The Revolution made a major leap forward in the process of human emancipation.

During World War II, the glorious Red Army led by Stalin, crushed the Nazi-fascist beast, itself an expression of the most reactionary policies of the bourgeoisie. In this context, several peoples from all continents undertook the revolutionary processes of social and national liberation that established and strengthened the socialist camp.

After the death of Stalin, in 1953, socialism suffered a transitory political defeat in the former Soviet Union. At the 20th Congress of the CPSU (1956), a revisionist clique which had been hiding for several years inside the Party took control of the state, reversed workers’ power and initiated a process of capitalist restoration that led to the collapse of the USSR in December 1990, at which time capitalism was already fully dominant. This in no way means the failure of socialism, as capitalist apologists cry. This is a setback that will be overcome by the workers, the revolutionaries and communists of the world. It is, however, a confirmation that if the party and the revolutionary movement of the proletariat departs from Marxism Leninism it weakens the foundation of socialist construction.

One hundred years after the triumph of the revolution of the Soviets, the revolutionaries and communists of the world do not look at this event with nostalgia. We commemorate with our eyes on the future, on the struggle that lies ahead in which we will liberate our countries from the ruling classes and the foreign powers. We celebrate with optimism, because we know that history cannot be denied; because on all continents workers, youth, women, the peoples continue to fight. They fight for their rights, for their welfare, for freedom, for democracy, social change, and peace. These struggles will grow and expand. They will have to face up against the system of exploitation and its supporters, against imperialist domination, they will open a new wave of social revolutions in which the legacy of the Russian workers, of Lenin and Stalin will be present.

Socialism is the future. That future was sown a hundred years ago and today there are winds throughout this world that will carry its seeds and make it bloom again. The workers, the peoples, the communists, we fight with the banner of Marxism Leninism to make it so.

Quito, July 28, 2017

ARGENTINA: Revolutionary Communist Party of Argentina

BOLIVIA: Revolutionary Communist Party of Bolivia

BRAZIL: Revolutionary Communist Party

COLOMBIA:
Communist Party of Colombia (Marxist Leninist)
Popular Democratic Youth of Colombia

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC:
Communist Party of Labor
Women’s Movement of the Dominican Republic
Broad Front
Caribbean Youth
Student Front Flavio Suero

ECUADOR:
Marxist Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador
Revolutionary Youth of Ecuador
General Union of Workers of Ecuador
Popular Unity
Women for Change
National Union of Educators
National United Federation of Farmer the Social Security Affiliates
Federation of University Students of Ecuador
Federation of Secondary Students of Ecuador
Revolutionary Front of the University Left
Unitary Confederation of Retail Merchants of Ecuador
Unitary Confederation of Neighborhoods of Ecuador
Popular Front
Union of Peoples Artists of Ecuador

EL SALVADOR:
Union of Independent Trade Unions of El Salvador
Permanent Political School of El Salvador

ITALY: Communist Platform – Communist Party of the Italian Proletariat

MEXICO:
Communist Party of Mexico (Marxist-Leninist)
Popular Revolutionary Front of Mexico
Union of the Revolutionary Youth of Mexico

PERU:
Peruvian Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)
Women’s Movement for Social Liberation
Popular Democratic Front of Peru
Revolutionary Socialist Party
Popular Democratic Bloc Party of Peru
Association of Women in Struggle of Peru
Marxist Leninist Party of Peru

PUERTO RICO: April 26 Movement of Puerto Rico

SPAIN: Communist Party of Spain (Marxist-Leninist)

TUNISIA: Workers’ Party

UNITED STATES: American Party of Labor

URUGUAY: Communist Organization “28 of February” – Uruguay

Posted in South AmericaComments Off on Problems of the Revolution in Latin America

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