Youth Delegates at the Moscow World Fair

Youth and children in general are widely known for being easily influenced and moulded. So why then, did the Soviet Union choose this particular demographic to represent the face of the nation? Was it because the party wanted to ensure delegates would only spout Soviet propaganda? If that it true, then the 1957 World Moscow Festival did, in fact, completed some of the goals it set out to accomplish. As Peacock notes in her article, The Perils of Building Cold War Consensus at the 1957 Moscow World Festival of Youth and Students, there were no organized protests during this particular festival. Delegates routinely answered questions with the same responses, presenting the unified, joyous front imperative for both Soviet propaganda and ideology. More importantly, perhaps, was the exchange of cultures that occurred between delegates of different nationalities. Soviet delegates, and those from other communist nations, were exposed to the capitalistic lifestyle normative of most of Europe and the West. In return, delegates from Europe and the West received a look into life in the Soviet Union, albeit a carefully constructed and falsified one. Although the majority of delegates were probably already members of a communist organization within their home country, the Moscow World Festival allowed them unprecedented access to the actual application behind Marxist theory. The festival may not have completely accomplished its political agenda, but it provided a cross-cultural exchange that laid the groundwork for future interactions between the world’s youth.

Children of the War

The drive for the collective propagated the Soviet image during World War II. In his article “Between Salvation and Liquidation,” Furst notes that images of crying, bedraggled children could be found between posters of heroic soldiers and dutiful citizens. The presence of street children and orphans was not to be blamed solely on their parents; the Soviet Union, as a collective, was at fault. Therefore, it was the duty of the Motherland as whole to find a solution. Thousands of prospective foster-parents flocked to orphanages, eager to play their part in vanquishing Germany. But were the children really better off with unqualified, duty-bound parents? There is no doubt that the vast majority was physically better off in their new homes; begging is not a consistent food source. However, most of these children carried psychological scars unimaginable to those untouched by war. They deserved a second chance, a fresh start with loving parents who could care for them unconditionally. Clearly, by the number of reports of both runaways and foster-children with “nervousness,” their psychological states were not being well looked after. So did families feel obligated to adopt children? Did they reluctantly take in little girls and boys into homes where they played second fiddle to biological children? Did the Soviet state’s efforts to encourage adoption help or hurt the waifs and orphans?

The workers of Manitostroi

The trouble with planning out every aspect of life is that you simply can’t. You can’t account for unexpected drought or famine or war- and especially not for the will of the individuals. Stalin and the Bolsheviks discovered this the hard way, with the implementation, and subsequent failures of their “Five Year Plan.” One of the most notable examples, Magnitostroi, is presented by Stephen Kotkin in his article, “Peopling Magnitostroi.”
The poor, the illiterate, and the exiled were all shuffled off to a desolate city, Magnitostroi, to spend months at a time laboring away at products they would never be able to enjoy. Entirely dependent on the train, their only connection to the outside world, inhabitants were cut off from family and friends. The city grew from twenty-five people to 250,000 in the space of three years, but this was no indicator of its prosperity. Many of the workers were given advances to convince them to work in Manitostroi, but even those who received money often fled after short periods of time. The government was unable to account for the simple misery of the residents of the city. According Kotkin, “even for the standards of the day, living conditions on the site were harsh” ((Kotkin, Stephen. “Peopling Magnitostroi: the Politics of Demography” in Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization. Berkley: University of California, 1993: 84.)) No amount of money in the world (and certainly not the amount the workers were receiving) was enough to entreat most to stay.
So why did the government insist on building a city out of nothing, on shaping and sculpting a desolate patch of ground to its every whim? Was it in a show of power- to prove that nothing was stronger than the willpower of the people, forced by the hand of the government? Was populating Magnitostroi truly an achievement, as officials claimed, or was it a blatant imposition on free will?

Revolutionary Works: Words that stir the populous’ blood

Wherever there is revolution, there are artists and intellectuals working behind the scenes to rouse the people into action. In colonial America, it was “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine and “Concord Hymn” by Emerson. In revolutionary Russia, Dmitry Furmanov was responsible for creating the call to action in his novel “Chapaev.” Typical of the World War I era, it glorifies battle and celebrates the power of youth. Furmanov depicts “courageous” young men “indissolubly linked together,” motivating Russia’s youth to respond to a higher calling ((Dmitry Furmanov, Chapev, (1923)). Chapaev is unique in Russia’s class-based society as it calls to everyone; the misfits, the poor, the hungry, the handsome, and the well-to-do are all welcome under Chapeau’s watchful eye. Furmanov creates a romanticized story where even the peasants can find food and happiness – appealing to the many who had nothing under the current regime and inspiring even more to rise up and fight.
Similarly, the poem “We Grow Out of Iron,” by Aleksei Gastev, also uses powerful language and wording to create images of the weak becoming powerful and overthrowing their oppressors. Gastev, himself a factory worker, manipulates the vision of the poem by choosing a relatively low level of syntax, while still planting the idea of revolution in a manner that relates to the audience. His word choice, particularly in the fourteenth line, when he says “I too am growing shoulders of steel and arms immeasurably strong,” empowers the people ((Aleksel Gastev, We Grow Out or Iron, (1914)). “I too” has a twofold meaning – not only is he participating in the revolution, just like the commoners, the sailors, and the peasants, but he is struggling, yet overcoming, setting the expectation that others will too. Authors like Furmanov and Gastev were the driving force behind the revolution – not the revolution of the intellectuals, who tended to plan without action, but the revolution of the people, who stirred at the calling of freedom and the end of tyranny.

A Liberal Art Education

Walk into any Starbucks across the country, and you will encounter a highly educated college graduate whose degree in interpretative dance, Zulu, or what-have-you seems to translate into immediate hiring at any coffee shop, effective immediately after graduation. Unfortunately for millions of college students, a bachelors degree no longer guarantees a high paying position. Instead, highly intelligent graduates are stuck working multiple jobs as baristas and busboys in a never-ending race to pay back insurmountable student loans. It is not enough to simply graduate with a degree; instead, students need to be able to think, to question, to innovate, and do so better and more uniquely than any of their similarly educated peers. In other words, an impossible task. A critic of the current higher education system, William Deresiewicz, laments recent graduates’ inability to connect with the common man, and failure to gain a comprehensive understanding of the world. He claims students know “more and more about less and less,” decreasing their employability. ((Deresiewicz, William in “Habits of Mind: Why college students who do serious historical research become independent, analytical thinkers.” The American Scholar Winter 2015.)) However, the authors of “Habits of Mind,” Anthony Grafton and James Grossman, suggest students should be highly specialized, in order to switch from a “passive observer” to a “creator” and to become an independent, self-reliant thinker ((Grafton, Anthony and James Grossman. “Habits of Mind: Why college students who do serious historical research become independent, analytical thinkers.” The American Scholar Winter 2015.)). But liberal arts schools combine both views. Students are well-rounded and well-informed, while still specializing in an area that teaches them the skills that Grafton and Grossman revere; they possess the ability to hold conversations with plumbers and with highly educated colleagues in multiple languages. Grafton and Grossman seem to suggest that it is impossible to be both synoptic and analytic; however, every student that walks down the steps of Old West provide evidence to the contrary.