30. Socialism and Youth

When it comes to the merits of the ‘new order’ in Russia, the first thing that comes to mind is its concern for education and upbringing, starting with the spread of literacy. These concerns are partly fiction, partly truth. The new power did indeed care about children and young men, or rather their minds, to a much greater extent than the imperial power. One might even say that Socialism (in its class and racial varieties) was characterised by a real cult of youth and strength. A veneration of youth, a desire to please it — and yet a stern inducement to unanimity. This cult had political as well as cultural reasons. Politically, youth was the best ally in the destruction of the Old World. [1] And Socialism itself, like springtime dreams, was most easily grasped by the young. It is hard to imagine a mature man being carried away by ‘justice for all’. But there was a second reason for this heightened attention of ruling Socialism to youth. As Plato says in ‘The Republic’:

‘In every endeavour the most important thing is the beginning, especially when it concerns something young and tender. It is then that the traits that one wishes to imprint there are most formed and take root’.

Actors of the ‘new order’ never, as far as is known, did not refer to Plato, but his thoughts they followed. The most important issue for them (after the preparation for war) was the education of youth, or rather to say — the education in the youth of the ‘correct’ way of thinking. Here is the difference between the enlightenment of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ world: the former government was primarily concerned with the formation of the individual, not with his opinions.

First of all, we must make it clear: the ‘new order’ did not need a thinking ‘people’ raised to the level of the former educated class. It needed a numerically increased and qualitatively weakened intelligentsia, i. e. a class of technical workers detached from the cultural soil. [2] This need produced (not only in Russia) an unprecedented number of people whose education was reduced to the ability to read and write, i. e. to simple literacy. The book has become for them, firstly, a habitual entertainment, and secondly, a source of ‘truths’, accepted the more religiously, the less place religion in its known forms occupies in modern life. Pavel Muratov said of this new educated class:

‘Neither special intelligence nor special education is required in those modern occupations which, for some unknown reason, proudly separate themselves from craft, factory and manual labour’.

He who has learnt to read, by virtue of a natural delusion, believes that he can also think. This is not a personal delusion, but a widespread and ingrained prejudice. The struggle for literacy was presented by the ‘new order’ as a struggle for the liberation of minds. In fact, literacy does not so much free the mind as make it more susceptible to propaganda. The behaviour of the ‘literate’ is determined by his reading much more than by customs and moral rules. The book liberates from the soil — at least in the first generation of readers. Subsequently, the book creates a new ground, a new tradition — from which Russia was torn away in 1918 by the force of brutal censorship and changes in spelling (because, to repeat it again, spelling is not a ‘technical’ issue that can be left to technicians).

However, in addition to and independent of ‘literacy’ there is the art of reading. In the shortest possible way, it can be defined as the interpenetration of the individual with the book. In reading we find not just ‘facts’ — since it is an art, not a skill, — in reading we find ourselves. The personality is surprised to find truths about itself scattered on the pages; often before any life experience, in childhood and adolescence. A book gives us both a key to ourselves and a model, a path of complexity and growth. The art of reading — belongs entirely to the realm of labour and development and growth. What it has in common with the simple ‘ability to read’, with reading for leisure and entertainment, are letters alone.

The art of reading is at enmity with the well-known: ‘the book is the source of knowledge’. Where a book is really a ‘source of knowledge’, it is either a tool or, worse, a means of enslaving a person to book ‘truths’. Semi-education is precisely subordination to the book. The true relationship between the individual and the book is a relationship of joint labour. The habit of reading does not mean the habit of working on and with the book. ‘Well-read’ is not the same as ‘having developed one’s mind’. ‘Being well-read’ is rather the opposite of being cultured, in the sense of developing one’s power of judgement. ‘The ability to read’ is passive, and under unfavourable circumstances does not develop the mind, but subordinates it to the book.

It is time to recognise: the book is not a good, at least not an unconditional good. A book can be unanimous with a ‘fence’, a book itself can become such a ‘fence’ (as the ‘world wide network’ has become before our eyes). There is no more nobility in a book than in the person who writes it.

Universal literacy, combined with government orders, favoured the development of two kinds of literature: the so-called ‘popular science books’ (originally conceived to preach atheism, but which later became more of an entertainment) and ‘children’s’ literature. The latter, like the former, eventually shifted from education to entertainment.

The flourishing of ‘children’s literature’ under the ‘new order’ had double roots. The influx of talented forces was ensured to it, firstly, by a somewhat less censorship oppression than in other areas of art, and secondly — by a conscious government order. ‘The Party’ wanted, first of all, to educate childhood and youth in a desirable direction; in time ‘education’ turned into entertainment. But even such literature for young people met the government’s demand, since it accustomed them to light reading that did not arouse thought.

In the case of ‘children’s literature’ the very statement of the question is false. Yes, there is a place in literature for books written primarily for children. But all the best ‘children’s’ books are also good for adults; and quite a few ‘adult’ books, in turn, have made the journey to the children’s shelf. The general rule is that children’s minds are developed almost exclusively by ‘adult’ books — except, perhaps, those that are too complex in thought or require the reader’s own experience of life. To offer a child exclusively ‘children’s’ literature means to limit him to children’s mental demands. This restrictive role ‘children’s literature’ fulfilled until its disappearance in the 1990s.

Culture, understood as literacy and freed from the soil, from mental complexity (technical complexity and mental complexity are not the same thing), also produced a simplified language, overloaded, however, with inappropriate foreign borrowings.

One may say: foreign words reigned in Russian speech in Peter the Great’s time also. But we should not compare Peter’s clumsy borrowings — and the dead language of the new order with its ‘organise’, ‘react’, ‘situation’, ‘real’, ‘concret’. The language of Peter the Great’s time remained national, abounding in borrowings where there were no (or seemed to be no) ready-made Russian expressions. The language of the new order is consistently non-national, i. e. dead; it consistently replaces every Russian word, or rather, whole nests of Russian words rich in shades of meaning with poorly digested foreign borrowings.

It is not about borrowing to help, but about the consistent destruction of native speech. As far as language is concerned, however, the ‘new order’ was not malicious (apart from its dreams of simplification). Its speechlessness is a natural consequence of semi-education, which despises everything native and always wants to appear foreign. Peter and his men were not half-educated. (They were either poorly educated or not educated at all.) Semi-education came to Russia later, in the time of Catherine. Novikov’s ‘Painter Magazine’ is still blatantly modern today:

‘Some haters of writing of new taste claim that every composition requires reason, learning, criticism, reasoning, knowledge of the Russian language and grammatical rules — be ashamed, my lords, strict judges, be ashamed of your opinion; leave your delusion: just look at our young writers, you will see that they never follow your rules. You preach things that have never been preached, or that have gone out of fashion: who will follow you? No one. At least, we young people never burden our memory with unnecessary knowledge; and this is commendable: why labour unnecessarily? What is reason for when you can write without it?’

‘Monkey language’, as Zoshchenko called the speech of the semi-enlightened class, marks the transition from adult to childish thinking. The child thinks in words. The concepts to which these words correspond are vague to him. It is necessary to study a lot to go from words to concepts, for which the mind, having thought through these concepts, selects the right words. The way of mental labour is from the subject of thought to the word, not from the word to other words. Immersion in the subject, wordless at its depth, is the sign of maturity. Everything else is a play with words. Modern thought is closer to the latter.

That’s the thing, thinking is not words, but something that is deeper than words. Mere ‘ability to read’ does not help thinking, on the contrary, it may even hinder it, if it is not accompanied by the ability of non verbal work of the mind, silent immersion in the subject of thought. Superficial education differs from real education in that it familiarises the student not with things, but with their names. When an uneducated mind wants to think, it strikes words against words, and gets words again.

The result of the movement described above was a numerous and proud new educated class, calling itself the ‘intelligentsia’. Self-awareness is not its strong point; class pride, if I may say so, is stronger in it than anything personal and unique. The educated man of the Old World was first of all a self-conscious man. Now it is possible to live by instincts alone, combined with scraps of ‘enlightenment’, alternating between arguments about the names of subjects and moral, that is, irrelevant, assessments. I am not speaking now of the multitude of people industrious and not malicious, engaged in mental labour in the usual way — they are unremarkable; I am speaking of people loud-voiced, ambitious, and in one form or another seized by the new Socialism.

About these people the shortest way to put it is, ‘those who have never thought’. They have assimilated the mental food received from the ‘new order’ in the most conscientious manner, and now reproduce the opinions and actions of their great-grandfathers with surprising accuracy.

All the ‘class pretensions’ of this new intelligentsia should be answered: the intelligentsia is only the frontier, the boundary between uncultivation and culture. There is nothing good in the frontier itself; it is only a sign, an indication of direction: ‘on this side is enlightenment’. It is an intermediate state, not a goal.

The intelligentsia of the new and modern times has not only been brought up on ‘children’s literature’, but also shows itself exclusively childish. A developed worldview is too great a luxury for it. The type of mature man is long gone. Maturity simply cannot be a value in an environment whose way of thinking and speaking is determined not by individuals but by the crowd. Subtlety of opinion, clarity of expression are not just secondary, but unacceptable in an environment whose main virtue is to be like one’s neighbour. The notorious ‘courage and honesty’ are herd feelings. ‘With courage and honesty’ one makes judgements that are not based on knowledge and reflection, but are based on faith and gullibility. Here, as J. St. Mill said, the received opinions rule.

They are eternal youths who never grow up. They have no worldview, because worldviews are peculiar to men, not adolescents. Adolescents have ‘beliefs’; passionate attachments and repulsions based on some ‘idea’. It is time to recognise that the ability to worry about ill-conceived ‘public interests’ is a lowly ability… Advanced convictions are the last excuse of the unlearned. Let us remember what Rozanov said about the ‘Russian opposition’:

‘A lazy Russian sniffs the air to see if there is a smell of “opposition” somewhere. And, having found one, he immediately clings to it and then finally calms down, having found justification for himself in the world, having found his meaning, having found, in fact, for himself the “Kingdom of Heaven”. How can there not be opposition in Russia, if it soothes everyone and solves thousands and millions of personal problems?”

They are characterised by a great, invincible levity. They do not think — why, because everything is written in books? A person of this type simply does not know that all the most important things are not read out of books; the whole area of personal development remains closed to him… And it will remain closed until the desire for maturity and complexity rises in the Russian man.

[1] The very type of the ‘mature man’ disappeared in Russia (we cannot know what would have happened to him under the ‘new order’ of the German model). Even such a superficial and misleading sign of maturity as a beard was banished. It is not surprising that at the end of the ‘new order’ the beard became a sign of some freethinking.

If the Christian preference for old age was unnatural and inevitably provoked hidden opposition, this domination of adolescents was no less unnatural and more harmful, for it was not maturity as such that was denied, but reason and experience. The pillars of the ‘new order’ were these neglected children, deprived of the possibility of inner development, dreaming only of achieving external goals.

[2] This intelligentsia is trying now, before our eyes, to present itself as a victim of Socialism — being its creator (primary nourishing medium) and, to an even greater extent, its creation. Socialism and the intelligentsia are in the same relationship as water and fish.

Timofey Sherudilo.
From the book Twilight Time.

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