The Soviet Court as a Propaganda Instrument

By Anna Lukina

“The Soviet court should, above all, persuade, prove and subordinate the public attention to its moral influence and authority.”

Andrei Vyshinskii, “Theory of Evidence in the Soviet Law” (1946)

It is well-known that the Soviet court procedure, especially in the 1930s, can be characterized by its lack of due process, judicial independence, and fair outcomes. It remains unclear, however, why these legal institutions were preserved and, on the surface, respected at all. The core of Marxist-Leninist philosophy was suspicious of legal formalism, with early 1920s legal scholars such as Pashukanis and Krylenko advocating for the ‘withering away’ of the state and hence law.

Yet this position was fundamentally reversed in 1930s. This can be explained by the fact that Stalin saw the courts’ hidden potential as a political tool: not as an explicit source of power (since coercion could be, and was, applied via extralegal procedures), but as a mode of communication with the population.

Even before the 1930s “conservative shift”, Soviet society recognized this hidden meaning of judicial procedures. Some of the 1920s trials such as the Trial of the SRs (1922) and the Shakhty Trial (1928) were more like “trial-lectures” addressed to a wide audience of spectators. In the 1930s, however, this function was enhanced since the state, aided by the Show Trials prosecutor Andrey Vyshinskii as a chief reformer, invested in legal education, legal scholarship, and the reorganization of judiciary and related institutions. This was followed by a “refetishisation of the law” – an explicit acknowledgment of legal order as the cornerstone of socialism and a building force in Soviet society.

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A photo from the trial of Semenchuk and Startsev (1936), which was characterised by strict adherence to Soviet legal narrative canons. Here, the defence attorney (who really acted as a ‘second prosecutor’) is addressing the court.

This, in turn, has increased the use of Soviet court for propagandistic purposes, creating what I call a “Soviet legal narrative”. It can be briefly described as a chronological account of the facts of a specific case, which was presented as the primary ‘story’ in the Soviet court. Even though the notion of a legal narrative is not unique to the Soviet legal system, and has been used to describe legal procedures in a variety of jurisdiction, its Soviet form was characterized by a number of distinct features.

Firstly, as mentioned above, the Soviet legal narrative was addressed to an unusually wide audience. While ordinarily a story presented in court is intended to influence the judge and the jury, the Soviet court was officially designated a function of educating wider population. This “education” did not only extend to ideologically neutral values such as respect for law, but covered instillation of more specific Marxist-Leninist values. It was disseminated via the openness of trials themselves, wide reporting in the (state-controlled) media, and even novels and short stories based on real-life trials. It can be partly attributed to the lack of adversarial procedures, which diminished the role of the court in the decision-making: when the outcome is pre-determined, there is no one to persuade.

Secondly, it can be viewed as an official agenda. The Soviet legal doctrine furthered an extremely idiosyncratic role of the court: educating the population as synonymous with establishing an objective truth. However, unlike similar (but more legitimate) concepts in contemporary civil law systems, the latter meant construing impressions as reality using materialistic dialectics – a strong ground for creating a narrative deviating from facts. Therefore, it can be argued that propaganda appeared to be an implied goal of the Soviet court in that period.

Thirdly, the Soviet narrative was characterized by a specific type of content. For instance, it presented the mens rea (the “mental” element of the crime – such as motives and intentions) as more important than the unlawful act itself. Anti-Soviet motives were considered as aggravating factors and therefore actively discouraged when the narrative was disseminated to the legal audience regardless of the objective impact of the defendant’s actions.

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A Soviet propaganda poster from 1948. “Bourgeois court is the court of the rich, while the Soviet court is the court of the people!”

Moreover, many distinctly colourful assertions were made about the defendant’s character and their class standing, as well as the victim’s relative characteristics. These “portraits” created a story which was easily digestible by the audience, with clear protagonists and antagonists: a cautionary tale designed to shape the existing social norms. In addition, it represented class struggle, turning the trial not only into a battle of personalities, but a tension between the oppressor and the oppressed. This provided both a justification for coercion and a political lesson for the spectators to learn from.

Finally, the omnipresence of this particular variety of narrative was cultivated by the fact that the Soviet court structure was far from the “storytelling contest” seen in adversarial trials: both the court and the prosecution followed the same line from the very start. Even the defence was not exempt from repeating the official line, as defence attorneys were considered the servants of the state as much as prosecutors, and so were compelled to advance similar goals and ideas. In this sense, the Soviet legal narrative was hardly challenged by any competing stories, which solidified it in the audience’s minds.

Therefore, the Soviet legal narrative phenomenon and the use of the court as a propaganda device can explain many peculiarities of trials in that period. Even though the rule of law would have presented a challenge to the totalitarian leadership, a pretense of the rule of law was, ironically, central to its strengthening.

Anna Lukina is a 3rd year BA in Jurisprudence student in the University of Oxford. Her research has so far focused on legal narratives in the Soviet criminal case and Soviet conceptions of human rights(1). She plans to combine Soviet legal history, socio-legal studies and legal theory in her work. This blog post is partly based on her article:

Anna Lukina, “The Semenchuk Case of 1936: Storytelling and Propaganda above the Law in the Soviet Criminal Trial”, Review of Central and East European Law, Volume 41, Issue 2, 2016, 63-116. http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/10.1163/15730352-04102001

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1989, Memory and Me

By Carmen Levick

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Romanian flag with emblem of the socialist cut out (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Memories are funny things: they come and go, they seem true but you discover they are rather fabricated, they haunt you when you least expect it. A few years ago I embarked on a quest to piece together my own history and to outline a road to a truth, to my truth which, according to Jean Baudrillard, ‘has vanished into the virtual through an excess of information’.[1] What follows are my own, individual memories of the days before and immediately after the 1989 Romanian revolution.

16 December 1989

School holidays. It is unusually warm outside and my grandmother tells me that when the trees are in bloom in winter that means a new beginning. I have recently turned 14 and I am really looking forward to changing from a pioneer to a young communist because when you are a young communist you don’t have to wear your tricolour tie to school. I have been waiting for eight years for this moment and I cannot wait to go back to school! This must be the new beginning my granny is talking about! But we have to get through the winter holidays first…

17 December 1989

Exciting morning! I am getting ready to go out and get in the queue for my winter holiday presents from the Party. Every winter, just before what people in the West call Christmas, but we just call winter holidays, kids my age and younger have to queue in front of the universal shop (not the only shop in the village, but the only one where there is actually something on the shelves) for our yearly presents: five oranges, a piece of chocolate and a tin of Globus meat.

It is the only time in the year when we are supposed to see oranges and eat real chocolate but we live on the border with Hungary so it’s easier to get hold of this stuff during the year. I have been queuing for about four hours now and I am glad it’s not snowing. The queue is advancing slowly and this is usually a lively affair but today things are different. The parents who joined their children in the line are whispering. In the evening, Ceausescu is on TV telling us that hooligans in Timisoara are destroying the city but that he has everything under control. Well, that’s good.

18 December 1989

Mum and Dad start whispering too. I feel that something important is happening and I would like to know what it is but nobody is talking to me. I am not allowed to use the phone as especially today it has more ears than usual. We visit some friends in the evening and I finally find out that Ceausescu does not seem to be that much in control as he said on TV. Apparently people are dying in Timisoara and corpses are thrown into the river Bega and into sewage canals. But nobody has really seen anything as the city is in lockdown. People are making stories up!

21 December 1989

Ceausescu is back from Iran and a large assembly of people is brought together in Bucharest in front of the Party’s Central Committee building. We are watching on TV as he addresses the crowd from the balcony, condemning the hooligans in Timisoara and talking about our bright future. But something is wrong! We start hearing boos and Ceausescu is flustered. He stops talking and tries, clumsily and without success, to calm the people. Suddenly the TV programme is cut. White noise.

The following days we are glued to the TV. On 22 December, at 12.08 Ceausescu and his wife flee Bucharest. The army is firing into the people. Tanks are crushing people in the streets. But then, suddenly, there are flowers on the tanks and in the barrels of the guns and the army is with us. Hugs and kisses. Ceausescu is gone! At night people are still dying. Who is shooting? The army are fighting ghosts. But people are dying so somebody must be shooting. The night is lit by tracer bullets. It is Christmas indeed!

On Christmas day Ceausescu and his wife are caught. After a mock trial they are executed. It’s horrible they did this on Christmas day and live on TV. But we are still happy and go on with our Christmas dinner. Democracy is looming on the screen. We will have proper elections and it’s going to be so good. Like in the West. And hopefully now the Americans will finally arrive. In early January there is a small miracle: the shops are full of food and other wonderful objects. We don’t have the money to buy any of them but we are window-shopping and loving it. From here things can only get better!

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Photo of the Romanian Revolution of 1989 in Cluj-Napoca, of the kind of images remote from many but via TV screen. (Source: Răzvan Rotta/Wikimedia Commons)

This was my revolution: the way I experienced it as a 14-year-old. But did we actually have a revolution? Nothing happened where I lived. We watched all the gruesome stuff on TV. It was as if this was happening in another country, in another reality. It is almost impossible to try and piece together what happened that December in 1989. Subsequent representations of the Romanian Revolution have all struggled with the construction of their narrative and many of them needed to turn to surreal imagery in order to fill in the empty spaces between death and politics.

In his chapter The Timisoara Massacre, Baudrillard notes that many Romanian eyewitness accounts speak of being dispossessed of the revolution by only seeing voluntary traces of it on screen. They are ‘deprived of the living experience they have of it by being submerged in the media network, by being placed under house arrest in front of their television screens. Spectators then become exoterics of the screen, living their revolution as an exoticism of images’.[2]

While there was at least one factual event —at 12.08 Ceausescu left the building of the national parliament— almost everything else should have been questioned and challenged by us, the armchair revolutionaries. And, although at first we got stuck in the mirage of the image of freedom —which, if deep-frozen before, was now over-spilling its banks— the years following the revolution prompted an abundance of questions about truth and authenticity.

We preferred ‘the exile of the virtual, of which television is the universal mirror, to the catastrophe of the real’.[3] But what was real? After the revolution, stories started to pop up everywhere: about what happened, who got killed, who escaped and if they were heroes or collaborators, who shot all those people, who were the terrorists? The more intellectual faces of the previous regime were now ready to take over and give us freedom and democracy.

One of the first plays to question the official events of the revolution and attempt a reconstruction based on the reactions of ordinary people to the events of 1989 was, interestingly enough, not a Romanian play but a ‘play from Romania’: Caryl Churchill’s Mad Forest. It was written in the first months of 1990 when Churchill went to Romania with a group of theatre students from London’s Central School of Speech and Drama to work with acting students in Bucharest and to try and find out more about the events of December 1989.

Structured in three acts, Mad Forest presents a before and after event, two weddings (Lucia and Florina’s) enclosing a rendition of what happened in December 1989, through seemingly unmediated (although English) voices of ordinary people, many accidentally involved in the events. What is fascinating about this work, is that even this very early play uses as a basis for its second act the narrative and imagery of the media revolution.

The characters telling the story: doctor, translator, housepainter, flowerseller, student, painter, soldier, Securitate man[4] and bulldozer driver, are all impersonal types, set against the main characters of the play, who give a sometimes painful but extremely visual account of the events. They piece together what everybody knows as being the official version of the revolution, with more personal, unseen events: ‘STUDENT: Then I saw students singing with flags with holes in them and I thought, surely this is the end’.[5]

Churchill gives voice to a Securitate man without turning him into a villain or a victim. Much like the other witnesses, he relies on the TV for his truth, which is now ruled by disorder as he himself notes: ‘Until noon on 22 we were law and order. We were brought up in this idea. I will never agree with unorder.’[6] His view of order and disorder challenges but also reaffirms Baudrillard’s conclusions about instating ordered democracy in Eastern Europe: ‘In Eastern Europe, where there was something (communism, but this was precisely disorder from a global point of view), today there is nothing, but there is order. Things are in democratic order, even if they are in the worst confusion.’[7]

Bio: Dr Carmen Levick is a lecturer in Theatre at the University of Sheffield’s School of English, having previously taught at University College Dublin following the completion of her PhD in their Theatre Studies programme. Carmen’s research focuses primarily on representations of revolution in theatre, Shakespeare in performance and physical theatre. She is currently working on a monograph mapping the performative representations of revolution in Eastern Europe, and recently presented a talk at the University of Sheffield’s Festival of Arts and Humanities entitled ‘Performing Stones: Memory, Forgetting and Communist Monuments’. You can follow her on Twitter at @Carmen_Levick.

Full photo attributions:

CC BY-SA 2.5 pl, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1237708

Photo of the Romanian Revolution of 1989 in Cluj-Napoca taken by Răzvan Rotta, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Photos_of_the_Romanian_Revolution_of_1989_in_Cluj-Napoca_taken_by_R%C4%83zvan_Rotta

References

[1] Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994, p. 54.

[2] Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994, p. 56.

[3] Ibid., p. 57.

[4] ‘Securitate’ refers to the secret police agency of the Socialist Republic of Romania.

[5] Caryl Churchill, Mad Forest, London: Nick Hern Books, 1990, p. 36.

[6] Ibid., p. 42.

[7] Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994, p. 29.

Zealots, bureaucrats or ordinary people? Looking for the Soviet censor.

By Samantha Sherry

More often than not, the language of censorship employs tropes of conflict and struggle. One wages a battle with censorship, or struggles against it. Writers are ‘victims’ of an absolute evil. What emerges time and time again is the idea of censorship as an almost abstract force. In my work on the censorship of the post-Stalin period, I am concerned with shifting this view, with finding the individual and examining his or her position within the ‘totalitarian’ system.

In the Soviet Union, the main arm of the extensive censorship system was Glavlit – the main administration for the maintenance of state secrets in the press (its full name

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Cover of the pamphlet, ‘List of persons, all of the work of whom is to be removed in accordance with Glavlit decree for the period 1938-1950′

would change several times from its foundation in 1922). Staffed mainly by individuals recruited for their ideological outlook and political correctness in the Stalin period, Glavlit became an increasingly professional outfit in the years following Stalin’s death. Censors were now educated, literate people, drawn from the ranks of publishing and journalism graduates, scientists and engineers.

The unintended consequence of this professionalization was that censors developed an increasingly strong literary and cultural sense. Some authors have recalled how censors tried to interfere in the literary process, making suggestions about how they might ‘improve’ their works, and in certain cases, particularly in the late Soviet period, where the censor became more willing to intervene and be part of publication debates.

They even, surprising as it might seem, tried to promote books they thought suitable, or push forward their own individual agenda. For instance, economist and co-editor of the magazine Russia, Igor’ Birman, remembered mobilising his contacts with the censor attached to the Ekonomika publishing house in order to expedite the publication of his own works with other major Moscow-based publishers.[1]

A number of censors even worked as novelists or poets – many after they left the institution, but some published their own original works while they censored the work of colleagues. For some, regulating literature was the next best thing to producing it. A telling statement is made by Vladimir Solodin, who led Glavlit in the 1980s, in an interview conducted after the collapse of the Soviet Union: ‘Naturally, I did not dream of [becoming a censor] from childhood. And I consulted for a long time with my friends. But the fact was, I wanted to write. And the route via censorship into the writing community was shorter than the route from the street’.[2] The links between the literary and political worlds, always close in the Soviet Union, are particularly striking where the censor is concerned.

At the lower level, a number of censors also worked as authors or poets. Glavlit’s files show that rather than being mutually exclusive, the roles of author, editor and censor could be combined. One interesting case is that of Nina Matveevna Berkova (1925-2003). Berkova entered Glavlit after graduating from the history faculty of MGU in 1952, the same year she joined the Communist Party.

Berkova moved between the literary and governmental spheres throughout her life and in the late 1960s lived in a building for KGB employees. During her time working for Glavlit, she wrote sci-fi novels under a pseudonym – perhaps a sign that the authorial role was not officially approved of – and after she left the censorship agency was a prolific author, editor and patron of sci-fi and fantasy and mystery literature and maintained close links with authors such as the liberal Strugatskii brothers, who had experienced their own struggles with censorship.

The traditional view of what the novelist and outspoken critic of the Soviet Union

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn looks out from a train, Vladivostok 1994. Photo by Mikhail Efstaviev (full attrib. below)

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn termed the ‘literarily illiterate people’ therefore bears some reconsideration. [3] Scholarship on Soviet censorship, by positing the censor as a monstrous kind of ‘Other’, antithetical to an oppressed creator of ‘pure’ literary production has hitherto obscured the complexity of censorial practices and the reality of the existence of the censor as a social actor, with complicated and contradictory motivations. In doing so, it obscures the close links between censorial practices and literary practices and the overlap between the intellectual and censorial spheres.

Where censors produced poetry and novels, we cannot simply think of them as anti-intellectuals or destroyers of literature. I will conclude by quoting the Lithuanian author Tomas Venclova, who railed against literary censorship: ‘For after all, the censor, too, is human. Like Homer, he might have to take a nap now and then. […] Although the censor is usually faceless, and never communicates with the author eye to eye, once in a great while one can play on his emotions, on his desire to spite someone, on his secret dissatisfaction with his life and profession, on virtually anything at all’.[4]

Biography

Samantha Sherry holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh. From 2013 to 2016 she was Leverhulme Career Fellow in Russian at the University of Oxford. She currently works at the University of Reading. Her book, Discourses of Regulation and Resistance: Censoring Translation in the Stalin and Khrushchev Era Soviet Union is published by Edinburgh University Press.

References:

[1] ‘Soviet Censorship: Discussion’, in The Red Pencil: Artists, Scholars, and Censors in the USSR, ed. by Marianna Tax Choldin and Maurice Friedberg (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989), pp. 53–67 (p. 65).

[2] ‘Tsenzory: Inter’viu S Byvshim Zamestitelem Nachal’nika Upvravleniia Glavlita (1984-1989 Gg.) Iuriem Otreshko’, Kommersant” Vlast’, 1997.

[3] Cited in T. M. Goriaeva, Politicheskaia Tsenzura v SSSR. 1917-1991 Gg., Kul’tura I Vlast’ Ot Stalina Do Gorbacheva. Issledovaniia (Moscow: Rosspen, 2002), p. 330.

[4] Tomas Venclova, Forms of Hope : Essays (Riverdale-On-Hudson, NY: Sheep Meadow Press, 1999), p. 187.

Image Attributions:

Image 1: By George Shuklin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image 2: I, Evstafiev [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Socialism in Translation: The Challenges of Teaching Communist History in the 21st Century

By Lani Seelinger

Let’s say that you want to teach communist history to students whose countries were never under communist rule. It’s an important episode of history to address, especially in the EU, which includes countries from both sides of the Iron Curtain. When you find source material you want to use, where do you start? By translating it, of course.

If you just translate the words in the source and have students look at it from their contemporary perspectives, however, you’re going to be facing a minefield of potential problems. Historical representations of Eastern and Central Europe during the communist period and otherwise so often orientalise it, which is counterproductive to the whole point of integrating these histories within the general history of Europe.

The best way to address these problems, then, is to integrate an element of cultural translation when preparing teaching materials — and to find sources that don’t need an overwhelming amount of explanation. This is particularly important when dealing with the sort of language that the communist regimes employed, because the people reading it and hearing it at the time would have picked up on the linguistic symbols and slogans that they were accustomed to, whereas the same language now doesn’t carry as much meaning for modern audiences.

We’ve seen an example of this in the news recently, when American president Donald Trump referred to the media on Twitter as an ‘enemy of the people’. While we cannot be sure why exactly he chose to use this phrase, it was a red flag for those who have studied the history of Stalinism, as it was one of Stalin’s favorite loaded phrases.

Knowing the mere meaning of the words isn’t enough to grasp the significance of such an utterance in 21st century politics; the cultural and historical weight must be noted for those trying to learn about it from the outside.

Let’s take a look at one of the video clips on our educational website, Socialism Realised. We call this one ‘Girl on a Tractor’, and it’s a clip from a 1950s propaganda film about collectivisation in Czechoslovakia.

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We’ve translated the lyrics in the video, but they’re relatively meaningless to modern audiences in either language. ‘In the sea of air and airplane/ tractor drivers of vast fields’? ‘The farmer worked like a dog/ we’ll plough the old boundaries’? There are, however, symbols hidden in those words that might have meant something to the people who heard them, and they certainly held some significance for the people who wrote them.

The references to airplanes and tractors allude to technology and progress, which was an important selling point of collectivization for those running it. Individual farmers wouldn’t have the resources to purchase tractors, but look at the power of the collective! Without the tractors, a farmer had to ‘[work] like a dog’ inside ‘the old boundaries’ of the fields — which the tractors are now happily ploughing through to create the collective.

And then there’s the music, which is Russian in style and not native to the former Czechoslovakia at all. The resulting image is, of course, of a bountiful harvest and a happy farmer.

Modern students can see the bountiful harvest and the happy farmers, and they can gather that it’s a clip from a propaganda film without any additional information about the symbolism in the lyrics. ‘Girl on a Tractor’ works precisely because it contains elements that were clear enough to all of the audiences that we tested without needing significant cultural contextualization of its language. In order to teach histories of authoritarianism to web users who may be approaching the subject for the first time, this absolutely key.

Take, on the other hand, an example of a source that we ended up cutting out. The newspaper article ‘Who Is Václav Havel’ was published in the Czechoslovak government newspaper in 1989 as a hit piece, portraying Havel as the scion of a rich family who went on to launch a ‘“holy war” against the socialist state.”

When we piloted the article with international students, it launched our focus group into a heated discussion of whether it was a propaganda piece from a socialist state or a laudatory article from a magazine like Time. The language implying that Havel was an enemy of the people, without stating so explicitly, went completely unnoticed by a number of our testing subjects, which showed us that it was not a suitable piece of educational material for our desired audience.

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In its place, we decided to feature instead an article entitled ‘Losers and Usurpers’, which has a stronger tone and language that is more blatantly defamatory. No one needs an explanation of the linguistic tropes that communist regimes used in order to figure out that phrases like ‘dogged fight against progress’, ‘unstable and disoriented individuals’, or ‘these usurpers scorn our people’ are meant to be negative. The ability to immediately understand the perspective of the article then allows users to pick up on elements of the communist rhetoric that they might not have known to begin with — the negative connotation of the bourgeoisie, for example, or the vaunted position of the proletariat, thus building a cultural ‘vocabulary’ with which to contextualize the less explicit pieces.

The biggest challenge of putting together our online learning environment was choosing material that could be understood by the broadest possible audience of people who have no experience with authoritarianism. The pieces we’ve chosen, then, are the ones that we believe are best able to get people thinking critically about the period — and those are the ones that needed the least cultural translation. Learning is, however, always a work in progress — so if you’ve got comments about something that we chose to include, we are always happy to hear them.

Lani Seelinger is based in the Department of Education at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Prague. She is also the co-creator and curator of Socialism Realised, an online learning environment aimed at forging a deeper understanding of the lives of the people in communist regimes, and a comparison of these experiences to the present. You can find Socialism Realised on Twitter at @SocialismR.

 

‘Enemies of the people’: Fake news and Bolshevik manipulation of the press in early Soviet Sormovo

By Laura Sumner

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One of Donald Trump’s references to ‘fake news’

 

‘The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!’- Donald Trump (17th February 2017)

‘This strike is subordination… In short, they [Mensheviks and Right SRs] acted as enemies of the proletariat, the enemies of the people, like true Whites.’- ‘Sormovskaia Zhizn’’, Rabochii- Krestianskii Nizhegorodskii Listok  (18th May 1918)

‘Fake news’ was named word of the year in 2016.[1] It was one of the buzz phrases used by sections of the media and politicians against apparently false news stories and campaign claims. Whilst endorsing fabricated news stories himself, Donald Trump has appropriated the term ‘fake news’ to use against sections of the American press which are critical of him. This supposedly ‘post truth’ era in 2017 may seem like the beginning of a slippery slope of backhanded political campaigns from which we can never return. However, there is nothing new about fake news or accusations of fake news. In fact, Trump’s hostile language towards the press is sharply reminiscent of the attempts of the early Soviet state 100 years ago to shape a revolutionary discourse during the Civil War.

Sormovo was a large metalworking factory and industrial complex situated in Nizhegorod province. It had a skilled and literate workforce which had a lot in common with metalworkers in Moscow and Petrograd. However, unlike Moscow and Petrograd it was not the Bolsheviks but the Socialist Revolutionaries, or SRs who commanded the support of Sormovo workers. They won a majority of Sormovo votes for the Constituent Assembly in

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Sormovo workers in the foundry workshop, 1923

November 1917 and continued to have a presence inside the factory and in the Sormovo soviet until mid 1918. The Bolsheviks sought to create a negative discourse about their moderate socialist opposition in Sormovo in an attempt to elicit the support of Sormovo workers. Smith argues that the monopolisation of revolutionary discourse by the Bolsheviks was one of the main reasons they managed to secure state power during the Civil War.[2] The power of the Bolshevik discourse of ‘class war’ is revealed in the Soviet state’s ability to portray the moderate socialist opposition as enemies not only of the new Bolshevik state, but of the people, despite their enduring support in the provinces.

 

After the moderate socialist press was shut down in Sormovo in January 1918, it was extremely difficult for the SRs and Mensheviks to openly challenge Bolshevik policies and rhetoric. Bolshevik newspapers were now one of the only official sources of information. The Sormovo Bolsheviks utilised the local press to speak directly to metalworkers in a section called ‘Sormovo life’ (Sormovskaia Zhizn’). This cemented a Soviet discourse not only about the political opposition but about workers and the Bolsheviks themselves. The Bolsheviks explained labour activism in Sormovo by creating and establishing a discourse that labelled the moderate socialists as ‘bourgeois’ enemies. They were blamed for acting falsely towards workers by trying to dupe them into the destruction of the Soviet state and were used as scapegoats for ongoing unrest amongst labourers. During a strike in 1918 the Bolsheviks publicly accused the Mensheviks of infiltrating certain workshops in Sormovo and persuading workers to be violent during a strike:

‘The Mensheviks and Right Socialist-Revolutionaries have long inserted themselves in Sormovo to agitate against the Bolsheviks and Left SRs. They enjoy all the difficulties that the country is going through. [They] excite the workers against the Soviet government policy and against the dictatorship of the proletariat.’[3]

This type of language is suggestive of a Bolshevik siege mentality and is remarkably similar to Trump’s twitter rants which have accused sections of the mainstream media of lying and deceiving the American people. Like Trump, the Sormovo Bolsheviks created a discourse about themselves in reference to their relationship to workers. Indeed, published Bolshevik resolutions often began ‘we Sormovo workers agree…’. Like Trump’s populist presentation of himself as a successful self-made businessman representing the ordinary working man, the Bolsheviks presented themselves as workers and as the party of the workers, which represented their views and best interests. The Bolsheviks’ was based on what the moderate socialists were not. The moderate socialists were bourgeois and the Bolsheviks were not, the bourgeoisie exploited workers and the Bolsheviks did not.

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Bolshevik newspaper Rabochii-Krest’ianskii Nizhegorodskii Listok

 

The Sormovo workers were given no agency in the narrative of labour activism in Bolshevik local press. They were merely puppets being manipulated by the moderate socialists. In private, the local and provincial organisation in Nizhnii Novgorod were in a continual state of fear about Sormovo workers, of their labour activism, ingrained support for the SRs and their integral role in the production of munitions for the Civil War. In private, Soviet reports about the causes of strikes are not steeped in ideological language. In a report of another strike in 1919 the Bolsheviks reported how they believed the strike had begun:

‘The reason for the outbreak of the strike was mainly about the insufficient amount of food issued per month to workers.’ [4]

This reveals a major discrepancy in the Sormovo Bolsheviks discourse about workers. In private correspondence the Bolsheviks were aware of how the food crisis in Sormovo was a prominent grievance of Sormovo workers. In the public press the workers themselves were not publicly blamed for the strike as this would have raised ideological questions about the nature of the Soviet state being a workers’ regime and representing workers in Sormovo.

By using labels such as ‘bourgeois’ and ‘enemy of the people’ to identify enemies of the state, the Bolsheviks created a powerful revolutionary discourse. The use of labels as a means of distinguishing the opposition had no base in reality but was a means to distinguish the state’s allies from its enemies. The fluidity of these labels created an atmosphere of fear and became a coercive tool, which was a formative experience for the Soviet Union, not unlike the ‘fake news’ phenomenon at play at present in the United States.

Laura Sumner is a final year ESRC funded History PhD student at the University of Nottingham. Her research ‘Ideology and Identity: ‘Knowing’ workers in Early Soviet Russia, 1917-1921’ explores discourses about worker identity in the Early Soviet Period with a focus on the factory complex Sormovo in Nizhegorod Province. You can find her on Twitter:

References:

[1] ‘’Fake news’ named word of the year by Macquarie Dictionary’, The Guardian (24/01/2017) [https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/jan/25/fake-news-named-word-of-the-year-by-macquarie-dictionary]

[2] S. Smith, Captives of revolution: The Socialist Revolutionaries and the Bolshevik dictatorship, 1918-1923 (Pittsburgh, 2011) pp. xiv-xv

[3] ‘Sormovskaya Zhizn’’, Rabochii- Krestianskii Nizhegorodskii Listok (18th May 1918)

[4] GOPANO (Gosudarstvennyi obshchestvenno-politicheskii arkhiv Nizhegorodskoi oblasti ) f.34, op.1, d.61: Sormovskii Raikom RKP(b) Nizhegorodskaia Gubernia: Materialii Komissii po zabastovki na Sormovskii zavoda (27th March 1919)

Full Image Attributions:

Image 1: Author’s screenshot of Donald Trump’s 25/02/2017 tweet

Image 2 (Sormovo workers in the foundry workshop): V.A. Kazakov, Revoliutsei Prizvannye: Ocherki ob ychastnikakh revoliutsionnogo dvizheniia v Nizhnegorodskoi Gubernii, vstupivshchikh v partiiu v 1917 godu (Gorky, 1987), p.142

Image 3: Author’s own

Speaking Soviet – The Marriage of Soviet Linguistics and Literacy in the Early Soviet Period

By Kate Martin

With the advent of the early Soviet period, the idea of literacy and language was one which was at the forefront of the minds of the Bolshevik leadership. Although work had begun in the late 19th and early 20th century by the previous regime to make education and literacy more available to the population, it had moved at a very slow pace: in 1914, only 41% of the population was literate[1]. To combat this, the Soviets mobilised a variety of new literacy schemes, including the successful Obshchestvo doloi negramotnost’ – The Society for the Eradication of Illiteracy.

kate-m
‘We are not slaves’ – Soviet Illiteracy Eradication Campaign Poster

 

Parallel to this, in the upper echelons of Soviet sciences, work was being undertaken at a lightning pace as linguists raced to find a ‘true’ theory of Marxist Linguistics. One such individual was Boris Larin, who argued that language users could move between several metalanguages in their own mother tongue. He focussed on the language of the state, language of the family group and language of the workplace. Per his theory, the same word might have different connotations depending on the metalanguage being used at the time.

While he did not suggest that his theory could be used in terms of language planning, a study of literacy campaigns shows how they can be used to influence language use by interlinking and homogenising the metalanguages of each language user. The campaigns were quickly put into action by an army of teachers and volunteers. Figures from the Central Moscow State Archive, TsGaMo, show the scope of the Society for the Eradication of Illiteracy.

Numbers of Illiterates Educated                                 Numbers of Semi Literates Educated

Year In Moscow In the Counties Total in the Moscow Region In Moscow In the Counties Total in the Moscow Region Total
1920/21 12000 21000 33000 3300
1922/23 3155 4500 7655 2400 1500 3900 11555
1923/24 5000 10000 15000 3710 3500 7210 22210
1924/25 5399 22953 28352 5945 7756 13701 42053
1925/26 6095 29435 35530 4746 8931 13675 49205
Total 31649 87888 119537 16801 21687 38486 158025

Figure 2: Numbers of Literate and Semi-Literate Citizens Educated in the Moscow Region between 1920-26[2]

However, literacy, to the Soviets meant more than the ability to read books and newspapers. As one early literacy scheme curriculum stated on its sign-up sheet, as a way of repaying the debt that they owed to the freedom afforded to them by the Great October Revolution all citizens “Can learn and must study the national economy”[3]. This focus on national economy greatly influenced the curricula of the literacy classes.

As well as learning about grammatical structures and reading skills, students in these schemes also learned about the different industries of the USSR. Indeed, the curriculum above stated that. “The economy is made up of production, for example that of textiles, metallurgy, mining industries and farming.”[4]

So how does the linguistic theory link to the literacy campaign, and how does it teach citizens to speak Soviet? Interestingly, the answer to this lies in newspapers. One of the main skills in the literacy curriculum was the ability to read and understand newspapers. This appears to be a rare case of the Soviet powers successfully joining the dots between their different schemes: newspaper articles often focussed heavily on the efforts and ‘successes’ (to be taken with a large grain of salt) of the various industries in the USSR.

Thus, Larin’s ‘the political’ and ‘the workplace’ metalanguages became much more closely connected. The extended definition of literacy created an impetus for more people to learn to read. The design of the curriculum meant that learners were exposed to a wide variety of topics relating to industry, and were instructed in how to read about these subjects in the newspapers. As the topics in the curricula were broad in range, people could access a much wider variety of information, and indeed compelled to read on more topics than they would have previously.

The state, as controllers of the content of the media, was able to control the ideological content of the newspapers. Words from the work metalanguage could be imbued with ideological colourations from the political.

While this is just one small part of the language planning operation which was put in place by the Soviet government during the early period of the USSR, the use of this theory demonstrates the ways that they were able to implement state goals through a trickledown effect.

Kate Martin is a third-year PhD student at the University of Nottingham. Her doctoral research is a multidisciplinary project which brings together Soviet linguistics, censorship and translation theory. Her research interests include the development of the Russian language and Soviet linguistics in the 1917-34 period and the translation of anti-utopian novels from this period.

References:

[1] Ben Ecklof, ‘The Myth of the Zemstvo School: The Sources of the Expansion of Rural Education in Imperial Russia: 1864-1914’, History of Education Quarterly, 24 (1984), 561-84. p.142

[2] TsGaMO (Central State Archive of the Moscow Region) f.966, o.4 d.2408 l.6

[3] TsGaMO f.966 o.4 d.945 l.7

[4] Ibid.

 

The Political Language of Celebration: The Anniversary of the October Revolution, 1918-1932

By Jon Rowson

‘It is impossible to build socialism in white gloves’ – Mikhail Kalinin, 7 November 1930[1]

The Anniversary of the October Revolution was the apogee of public politics in the young Soviet state. The celebrations, lasting 2-3 days in all areas of the USSR, were a means of honouring the previous year’s achievements, and increasing the morale of the populace. Despite Petrograd being the centre of events during the October Revolution, Moscow- and in particular Red Square – soon became the axiomatic centre of celebrations after being named the Soviet capital in 1918.

The culmination of the annual Anniversary event was a joint military and civilian parade through Moscow and Red Square, where Soviet soldiers and citizens caught a glimpse of the political elite, and heard speeches delivered by a range of politicians. Over time, the nature of the celebrations changed, turning from a spontaneous outburst of civilian celebration, to a rigid, militaristic pageant. Nonetheless, the importance of the written and spoken word remained.

Political speeches were ubiquitous throughout the Anniversary event. Lenin delivered at least six speeches during the 1918 holiday, with his address on Red Square being published verbatim in the Pravda and Izvestiia VTsIK newspapers.[2] These speeches reveal crucial insights into how the Soviet state addressed and sought legitimation from its citizens, and how these processes changed during the turbulent first fifteen years of Soviet rule.

‘Kolarov is an amazing person. Did you hear the way he talks? He never says: fight. He says, to fight and win. Generally, the Bolsheviks were the kind of people that like to dot their i’s’ – Unnamed audience member, 9 November 1923[3]

As the above quotation indicates, clarity and understanding were of vital importance to the Anniversary’s political message. This was often reflected in the choice of speaker,

jon-blog-1
Soviet leaders including Lenin (centre) and Trotsky (saluting) observing the Second Anniversary of the October Revolution celebration on Red Square, 1919.

particularly for the Red Square speeches which were always published in Soviet newspapers in the days that followed. During the War Communism years, Lenin and Trotsky, noted respectively for their speeches’ ‘iron logic’ and ‘drama’, both appeared frequently, reflecting their status at the head of Soviet politics.[4]

 

After Lenin’s death in 1924, a multiplicity of voices characterised the Anniversary celebrations. Two of the most audible figures were Mikhail Kalinin, often hailed as the “All-Russian Village Elder” [Vserossiiskii starosta] and, as the military began to play a greater role in festivities, Kliment Voroshilov.[5]

Problematically, many of the Soviet political elite were not proletarian in origin. However, Kalinin and Voroshilov, sons of a peasant and railway worker respectively, were figures that the Soviet populace both rural and urban, could draw commonalities with, especially during the reading of the revolutionary oath which began with the proclamation, ‘I, the son of the working people’.[6] This made them a savvy choice for inclusion in the annual celebrations .

The Anniversary celebrations were a means of mythologizing the achievements of the Soviet state. During the Civil War years, this took the form of celebrating the ‘unprecedented, incredibly difficult struggle’ of the Red Army troops.[7] Vague statements of success, such as Trotsky’s 1919 retort that ‘our army, which is fighting against the White gangs of Yudenich, is successfully moving forward’, were said to have drawn cheers from the crowd.[8]

During the years of the First Five-Year Plan, this myth-making project was directed towards the economy. Political speeches became replete with statistics, an example being Voroshilov’s 1930 parade speech, which featured the claim that ‘gross industrial output has reached 196.9% of the pre-war level’.[9]

Between 1928 and 1932, statistics such as these became evidence of socialism’s ‘extraordinary achievements’, and proof that, as Kalinin stated at the 1930 Red Square parade, ‘we have left behind many of the difficulties’ of the War Communism years.[10] Yet, at the same time as these statements of success, workers’ real wages had fallen 52% from their 1918 level, with the continued decrease in meat and dairy consumption another indicator of falling living standards.[11]

Legitimacy for this myth-making project was sought by demonstration of the Bolshevik elite’s ability to predict the future. Lenin’s 1919 statement of the Party’s ‘firm belief in the imminent victory of Soviet power’ was justified following the 1920 capitulation of the White forces.[12] After his death, Anniversary speeches contain references to the ‘great teacher’ Lenin, whose ‘great ideas’, such as the smychka, the union of proletariat and peasant, would help the USSR ‘overcome all difficulties’.[13]

By 1932, Lenin’s name was not only being used during the Anniversary celebrations to

jon-blog-2
Military Review at the Fifth Anniversary Celebrations on Red Square, 1922.

legitimise Bolshevik economic and political policy, but also Stalin’s personal rule. Kalinin declared that Stalin was ‘leading the way for the Party’s implementation of Lenin’s testament’, whilst Voroshilov hailed ‘Long live the faithful follower of Lenin, the Bolshevik of Bolsheviks, Comrade Stalin’, during his speech on Red Square.[14]

 

Concurrent with these attempts to legitimise Soviet rule was the de-legitimisation of Soviet enemies, both internal and external. Speeches outlined, on the one hand, positive identities, such as ‘shock-workers’ [udarnik] and ‘collectivised peasant’ [krest’ian-kolkhoznik], and on the other, ‘enemies of the people’, including ‘truants’ and ‘kulaks’ .[15]

Humour was also used as a de-legitimisation tool. Kalinin’s damning portrayal in 1932 of American President Herbert Hoover as an ‘ignorant peasant, who raises his eyes to the sky and prays for the heavenly rain during a drought’, was a confident jab by a Soviet state which had fulfilled the First Five-Year Plan, whilst the American economy was still reeling from the Great Depression.[16]

The Anniversary of the October Revolution was a national holiday for all Soviet citizens, meaning that it had great nationwide exposure, This made it the ideal site for the dissemination of political messages. The dual processes of legitimising Soviet politics, both with regards to policy and personnel, and de-legitimising ‘enemies of the people’, were crucial to inculcating a spirit of festivity, achieved by demonstrating the achievements of the Soviet state, and the promise of a better future.

Jonathan Rowson is a first-year ESRC-funded PhD student at the University of Nottingham in the Department of History. His thesis, entitled ‘Out-migration from the Russian village: Perm’ province 1890-1914’, examines migration networks in the late-Tsarist period at a local level, analysing the causes and effects of rural-to-urban migration within Perm’ province, and the growth of rural-to-rural migration from Perm’ province to Siberia. This province-level study is also an attempt at documenting the regional socio-economic idiosyncrasies of late-Tsarist Russia’s industrial and economic modernisation, and how this impacted, and was impacted by, population movement. Other research interests include the concept of legitimacy in the Soviet state, and the socio-cultural means by which the Soviet Union sought to legitimise itself in the 1920s.

References:

[1] Izvestiia VTsIK (308), 7 November 1930, p. 4.

[2] Graeme Gill, Symbols and Legitimacy in Soviet Politics (Cambridge, 2011), p. 71.

[3] ‘S tribuny’, Izvestiia VTsIK (256), 9 November 1923, p. 5.

[4] Orlando Figes & Boris Kolonitskii, Interpreting the Russian Revolution: The Language and Symbols of 1917 (New Haven, CT., & London, 1999), p. 101.

[5] Pravda (256), 10 November 1925, p. 3.

[6] Pravda (256), 11 November 1924, p. 5.

[7] V. I. Lenin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 37 (Moscow, 1969), p. 147.

[8] Pravda (251), 9 November 1919, p. 1.

[9] Izvestiia VTsIK (309), 10 November 1930, pp. 1-2.

[10] Izvestiia VTsIK (261), 10 November 1928: 4; Izvestiia VTsIK (308), 7 November 1930, p. 4.

[11] Jeffrey Brooks, Thank You, Comrade Stalin! Soviet Public Culture from Revolution to Cold War (Princeton, NJ, 2001), p. 55.

[12] V. I. Lenin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 39 (Moscow, 1969): 288. Originally published in Pravda (249), 6 November 1919.

[13] L. B. Kamenev, ‘Vos’maia godovshchina Oktiabria’, Izvestiia VTsIK (256), 10 November 1925: 2; Izvestiia VTsIK (261), 10 November 1928, p. 4.

[14] Pravda (310), 10 November 1932: 2; K. E. Voroshilov, ‘Rech’ na parade v Moskve v den’ XV godovshchiny oktiabr’skoi revoliutsii’, in K. E. Voroshilov, Stat’i i rechi (Moscow, 1937), p. 480.

[15] Voroshilov, ‘Rech’ na parade v Moskve’: 477; Pravda (310), 11 November 1932, p. 2.

[16] Pravda (310), 10 November 1932, p. 2.

Full Image Attributions:

Image 1: By L.Y. Leonidov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image 2: History of Russia in Photographs

A Bulwark Made of Words: the Francoist Press during the Second World War

By Miguel Rivas Venegas

In the opinion of Sir Samuel Hoare, British Ambassador in Spain, the Spanish press from the 1940s was a toy in the hands of the Third Reich’s Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels. Newspapers were full of terminology described by the researcher Luis Veres as the ‘lexical arsenals’ of authoritarian regimes, and were as Hoare underlined, ‘literally illegible’.[1] The American ambassador, Alexander Weddel, who would accuse the Home Minister, Ramón Serrano Suñer, of organizing a propaganda campaign coordinated by Nazi agitators, shared the opinion of the British diplomat in Spain.

According to Weddel, the German Press Attaché was indeed behind many of the articles and editorials of the Falangist newspaper Arriba, which were ‘clearly translated from another language’. Stanley Payne also discussed translations in reference to the early fascist newspaper El Fascio,[2] promoted by the J.O.N.S member,[3] José María Alfaro, close collaborator of the German Press Attaché Hans Lazar.[4]  Research on Jonsist language reveals possible translations and adaptations of the ‘Lingua Tertii Imperii’ within the language and rhetoric of Spanish Jonsists, Falangists and Francoist propagandists of the late 1930s and 1940s.[5]

captura-de-pantalla-2016-11-23-a-las-11-02-19
Report in Spanish newspaper, ABC, on Hitler’s activities in Berlin. Source: ABC (Sevilla), 9/4/1943

The enormous power of journalists and Spanish correspondents in Germany under the command of Hans Lazar, as well as the influence of the media in general should not be underestimated. As Weddel would claim, a systematic, coordinated press could be enough to drag the exhausted masses of Spain into a ‘new battle of the same war’ –asserted Franco– against the enemies of the Fatherland.

Spain was represented by the Spanish Caudillo, German propaganda, and General Moscardó (who was in charge of the Deutsch-Spanische Geschellschaft),[6] as the first front of the crusade against bolshevism and its ‘allies’. The press should be, as Home Secretary Serrano Suñer claimed in 1940, ‘Military column, militia, and fundamental backup to the State’.[7] As stated in one Diario Norte article signed by the National-Socialist press agency Arco-SPES, the journalist should become a soldier,[8] and get rid of his civilian clothes. Discipline under a strict chain of command included linguistic discipline:[9] dilettantes or propagandistic improvisation could be more dangerous than enemy counter-propaganda. Arsenals of words, or, ‘purr’ and ‘snarl words’, as Hayakawa would categorize certain political vocabulary,[10] should be cautiously and meticulously chosen.

The so-called ‘New Spain’ needed its journalists on the front lines of combat. Germany would be the best example of the strong power of persuasion of media under a rigid, sophisticated and, according to General Director of Propaganda Dionisio Ridruejo, ‘perverse’ control of the State.[11] Spanish news correspondents were positioned in many European countries, another one of the Generals’ weapons since the First World War.[12]

At first glance, Spanish newspapers showed not only a non-belligerent attitude towards the political and imperialistic aspirations of the Axis, but clear support of their propaganda and propagandistic language. Information relating to Japanese expansionism presented to Spanish readers in the newspaper ABC was similar to the allusions that appeared in Arriba or Levante, in which German imperialism and the offensive against Poland was described as a ‘vital necessity’, clearly supporting the hitlerian principle of Lebensraum. According to these newspapers, the egoism, incompetence, and lack of empathy of the so-called decadent democracies provoked the German reaction and made any pacific solution to the conflict impossible. The newspaper El Norte de Castilla would affirm that German troops were obligated to penetrate the Polish territory, as the Poles rejected any pacific alternative.[13]

Miguel-Rivas-pic-2.png
The Falangist daily, Arriba, delivers Hitler’s speeches to a Spanish audience. Source: Arriba, 31/1/1941

Germany was pictured as a proud nation reacting to the constant provocations and warlike offenses of those ‘false democracies’ that according to Franco ‘did not want peace in Spain’. [14] Salvador Merino, Head of the Falangist Trade Unions, would talk about an ‘obliged war’, a defensive war, of Germany against its offenders. The opinion of the prominent Falangist appears in the Pueblo newspaper right after one of his ‘formative trips’ to National-Socialist Germany.[15] According to his own description of these visits, he contacted prominent Nazi leaders and studied (and in many senses reproduced) the structure of the German Labour Front.

The same subjective, laconic, imprecise and propagandistic description can be found in El Alcázar referring to the German offensive in Norway.[16] The position of certain Catholic newspapers towards Nazi racial measures in occupied territories can be easily perceived in the pages of El correo de Andalucía. They exhale the same anti-Semitism found in the pages of Onesimo Redondo´s Libertad:

‘When going down Nawrek Street the citizen formation decreases and changes, turning, degenerating into filthy residences corresponding to the Jewish suburbs. Even the three-floor buildings look nauseating and disgusting. The “doroskas” stroll around streets full of dirty and ragged kids. The Jewish caftan stands out over any other clothing and the beards are legion as the fear of an epidemic disease’.[17]

The Spanish press commonly pointed towards ‘British egoism’, which was described constantly in ABC. The origin of the Japanese occupations was, according to this newspaper, an ‘obliged’ defence against the British manoeuvres:

The fight of Japan against the Anglo-Saxon powers is a transposition of the social war on the international scene (…) the Japanese archipelago is too small for it’s almost one hundred million inhabitants (…) if the Anglo-Saxons would have understood the vital necessities of the Japanese people, the actual conflict could have been avoided.[18]

The first Press Office Director and member of the Office of Press and Propaganda, journalist, and correspondent Luis Antonio Bolín considered, at the beginning of the conflict, that the war should be won by force of arms. Maybe his early contacts with non-Spanish journalists and propagandists in Salamanca changed his mind. Propaganda and the press were, as Bernays claimed in 1928,[19] a fundamental tool in modern times. Weapons were not enough. A bulwark of words, also serving the propagandistic goals of National-socialist propaganda in Spain, was successfully built in the newly-born ‘España Nacional’.

Miguel Rivas Venegas is a second year PhD student in the deparment of Art History and Theory of the Autónoma University (UAM) in Madrid, where he forms part of the research group  ‘Artistic and Audiovisual Cultures in the Contemporary World’. Miguel currently lives in Berlin, where he has spent time as a scholar at the Humboldt University. His PhD research investigates the similarities and differences between the totalitarian language of Nazi Germany, and that of Francoist Spain. 

[1] Ingrid Schulze Schneider, ‘Éxitos y fracasos de la propaganda alemana en España: 1939-1944’. Melanges de la Casa de Velázquez 31-3, (1995), pp. 197-217.

[2] Stanley Payne, Falange. A History of Spanish Fascism (Stanford University Press, 1961), p. 31.

[3] The Juntas Ofensivas Nacional Sindicalistas was the first relevant political movement in Spain.

[4] Schulze Schneider, ‘Éxitos y fracasos’, p. 200.

[5] The German philologist Viktor Klemperer defined the particular use of language and rhetoric of the Third Reich as “Lingua Tertii Imperii”. See Viktor Klemperer, LTI. Notizbuch eines Philologen (Berlin, Aufbau,1947).

[6] Speech by General Moscardó, president of the German-Spanish Society- Quoted in El Alcázar, 6 August 1941.

[7] Speech by Serrano Suñer to the journalists of Valencia. As quoted in Informaciones, 24th April,1940.

[8] ‘La prensa en la guerra’ Norte. Diario de Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las J.O.N.S., 27th February 1940.

[9] The propagandistic possibilities of the press, particularly during armed conflicts, had been obvious to German propagandists since the First World War. For more information, see Almut Lindner-Wirsching,‘Patrioten im Pool. Deutsche und französische Kriegsberichtestatter im Ersten Weltkrieg‘ in Ute, D. (Ed.) Augenzeugen. Kriegsberichterstattung von 18. Zum 21. Jahrhundert (Göttingen, 2006).

[10] S. I. Hayakawa, Language in thought and action (Orlando, A Harvest/ HBJ Original, 1990 [1939]).

[11] Francisco Sevillano Calero, ‘La estructura de la prensa diaria en España durante el franquismo” Investigaciones históricas: Época moderna y contemporánea, ISSN 0210-9425, Nº 17, 1997, p. 316.

[12] Reinhard Stauber, ‘War and public Sphere. European examples from the Seven Years´ War to the World War I.’ in Seethaler, J., Karmasin, M., et al., Selling war. The role of Mass Media in Hostile Conflicts. From World War I to the “War on Terror”. p. 28.

[13] Appeared in the newspaper El Norte de Castilla. Quoted in Virginia Martín Jiménez, ‘La prensa vallisoletana ante el final de la Segunda Guerra Mundial’, in Pena, Alberto (ed.), Comunicación y guerra en la historia, pp. 343-344.

[14] Paul Preston, Franco (1995), p. 415.

[15] ‘La estancia del Delegado Nacional de Sindicatos en Alemania’. Appeared in Pueblo. Diario del trabajo nacional. 5th of May,1941.

[16] The Carlist newspaper would briefly refer to that 1 September ‘in which the democratic powers declared war on the Third Reich (…) on the triumphal Germany (…) that possessed the moral of victory’. In ‘En vísperas de las grandes batallas’, El Alcázar, 10 May 1940.

[17] ‘La paz  no depende de Alemania’, El correo de Andalucía, 11 October 1939.

[18] ‘Los japoneses han ocupado la capital de Tailandia.’ ABC, 10 December 1941.

[19] Edward Bernays, Propaganda. (Brooklyn, 2005 [1928]), p. 54.

Educating the ‘Uneducable’: Soviet Deaf-Blind Education and the New Soviet Person

By Charles Beacroft

In 1928, Lucy Wilson, an experienced educator and pedagogue, travelled from the United States to the Soviet Union to compile an accurate account of the advances of Soviet education for the Vanguard Studies of Soviet Russia. In her travels, she arrived to a school for the deaf-blind in the Ukraine and was stunned. She concluded that ‘in Kharkov… there is an experimental school for the scientific study of the deaf-blind which in its ideal, its equipment, its teachers and its results is far ahead of anything that I have chanced to see in any other country.’[1]

trawling-the-archive-for-letters-written-by-women-to-soviet-newspapers
Three children being led by their teacher at the Kharkov School for the Deaf-Blind

Wilson’s amazement concerned the Kharkov Institute for the Deaf-Blind, a school-clinic that remained the focal point for surdotiflopedagogika (deaf-blind education) within the Soviet Union during the interwar period. The founder of the school, Professor Ivan Sokolyansky, who was considered the father of surdotiflopedagogika, had formulated a method that involved the use of self-care techniques, educational practices and mechanical prosthetics to educate previously ‘uneducable’ deaf-blind children.

 

This was representative of the transformative mind-set of social constructivism during the 1920s and 1930s, personified through the proliferation of the New Soviet Person myth. His system, termed ‘humanization’, ensured that deaf-blind children, despite their sensory deprivation, could lead productive, purposeful lives within Soviet society.

Congenital deafblindness is defined as the combination of both sight and hearing loss, often through the catching of tuberculosis, meningitis or Usher’s syndrome at an early age.[2] Children who have not developed language before the onset of their multi-sensory deprivation, face an enormous challenge in communicating with others. They are unable to form relationships or interact successfully with their environment, yet they have a perfectly functioning brain.

Sokolyansky retorted that ‘the child himself will never reach full mental development through his own efforts. Without special pedagogical help, a child is totally disabled for life.’[3] Sokolyansky wished to bring about an ‘awakening’, to create the means for the deaf-blind child to utilise their active mind and develop a method of communication with others.

Before the deaf-blind child could be taught how to speak, Sokolyansky wished to teach such children how to form their own independence. All of his pupils were reliant on others to feed, dress and take care of them before they entered the school. Sokolyansky’s method relied on the formation of their own self-care skills. One particular method,

picture1
A Deaf-Blind man using a ‘reading machine’

known as ‘direct installation’, had the teacher place their hands on the inside of the palms of a deaf-blind child.[4] Together, they would complete a series of activities, such as dressing, washing and eating, so that the child would passively learn how to complete such activities.

 

Over a period of time, the child would eventually take a dominant role and would learn how to successfully complete these actions themselves, independent of their teachers. Sokolyansky was concerned with the creating of useful, industrious children who could think for themselves, form their own opinions and make decisions. His method began the process of ‘humanization’ and lay the foundation for subsequent development.

Language was the next step in surdotiflopedagogika. The ‘oral method’ was shunned by Sokolyansky, and he promoted a teaching curriculum that involved gesticulation, the learning of the dactyl alphabet and Braille.[5] The development of their tactile sense was paramount to the creation of language within the mind of the deaf-blind child. Language would lead to the formation of independent thought and the advancement of their education. With such an education, they could learn to live within Soviet society, free of the confines of their pre-institutionalized selves.

Mechanical prosthetics also formed a significant part of Sokolyansky’s approach to
language development, specifically through his creation and development of both the ‘reading machine’ and the ‘teletaktor’. Both of these machines had developed to allow for the deaf, blind and deaf-blind to successfully have an artificial means of communication within Kharkov.

The ‘reading machine’[6] was developed in Kharkov to allow for the transfer of electronical oscillations that passed through the tips of fingers of a blind or a deaf-blind child, thus creating language through tactile means. Likewise, the ‘teletaktor’[7] served deaf or deaf-blind children and converted sounds into vibrations.

Hence, the child would be able to ‘hear’ their own voices, the voices of others and from what direction the noises came from through the feeling of the vibrations. It was an example of mechanical social engineering and utilised the availability of modern contemporary technology to overcome the sensory impairments of the deaf-blind child.

picture3
Ivan Sokolyansky (left) helps transcribe Olga Skorokhodova’s (right) memoirs

Sokolyansky’s revolutionary methods bore fruit, with every single child within the Kharkov school being able to read, write and communicate (through various mediums) with each other and their peers. Wilson also reiterated how ‘none of the pupils hear, none of them see, but all of them have acquired the necessary basic habits, meaning that they can take care of themselves efficiently, making their own beds, eating like refined human beings, playing and working together happily.’ [8]

One student, named Olga Skorokhodova, became the triumph of surdotiflopedagogika after eventually writing her own autobiography in 1947, entitled How I Perceive the World, and defending her PhD thesis in 1961.[9] She succeeded in becoming a productive, useful member of Soviet society and her achievements paved the way for others to follow in her footsteps in the late Soviet period.

Charles Beacroft is a second year CHASE funded PhD student within the University of East Anglia’s History Department. His doctoral research deals exclusively with the education of deaf-blind children in the early Soviet period. His research interests revolve around the history of disability, social history, and marginalised groups, specifically homeless children and orphans.

References

[1] Lucy Wilson, The New Schools of New Russia (Vanguard Press, New York, 1928), p. 86

[2] David Bakhurst and Carol Padden, The Meshcheryakov Experiment: Soviet Work on the Education of Deaf-Blind Children, Learning and Instruction (1991) Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp. 201 – 215

[3] GARF, f. 10049, op. 2, d. 389, l. 3

[4] Tatiana A. Basilova, Istoriya Obucheniya Slepogluhih Detei v Rossii (Eskmo Punlishers, Moscow, 2015), pp. 88 – 89

[5] Tatiana A. Basilova, ‘About Sokolyansky and his Method of Teaching Deaf-Blind Children’, Cultural Historical Psychology Journal (2006), Issue 3, p. 12; Irina Sandomirskaya, ‘Skin to Skin: Language in the Soviet Education of Deaf-Blind Children, the 1920s and 1930s’ (2008), Studies in East European Thought, Vol. 60, pp. 332 – 333

[6] S-FPS, f. 1, op. 3.2, d. 51, l. 43

[7] S-FPS, f. 1, op. 3.2, d. 49, l. 62

[8] Wilson, New Schools, p. 86

[9] O. I. Skorokhodova, How I Perceive and Imagine my World (Pedagogy Publishers, Moscow, 1972)

Image Attributions

Image 1: S-FPS, f. 8, op. 189, d. 14, l. 1

Image 2: S-FPS, f. 8, op. 190, d. 21, l. 1

Image 3: S-FPS, f. 8, op. 191, d. 30, l. 1

Between Populace and Elite: Challenging Traditional Views of Revolutionary Russia

by Beth Pennyfather

Typically, accounts of the 1917 Revolution depict a very class conscious image of Russia, reflecting the influence of Leninist concepts of revolution. However, this was not the case among the proletariat, for whom the revolution was less explicitly ideologically motivated. Rooted in issues such as inflation, general living conditions and food shortages, the Revolution was not the class conscious conspiracy it is often deemed to be.

redsqlenintrotsky
Lenin giving a speech to troops on May 5 1920, with Trotsky in the foreground.

For the majority of the Russian populace in 1917 the revolution was an expression of its frustration and helplessness regarding its social conditions, rather than a collective uprising consciously aiming to ‘overthrow the capitalist slave system’.[1] This ideological, class-based view is, however, the one that has long dictated historiography and our common understanding of events.

The ideological language associated with the Revolution, such as ‘Marxism’ and ‘Bolshevism’, would largely have been confined to those at the top of Russian society. Those belonging to the proletariat – who formed the majority of the population – lived very traditional lives, with the monarchy being the only system they understood and needed to know. They had little political freedom under the Tsar, thus meaning they did not necessarily readily understand the political language elites were using, when this political vacuum did

800px-%d0%b4%d0%b5%d0%bc%d0%be%d1%81%d1%82%d1%80%d0%b0%d1%86%d0%b8%d1%8f_%d1%80%d0%b0%d0%b1%d0%be%d1%82%d0%bd%d0%b8%d1%86_%d0%bf%d1%83%d1%82%d0%b8%d0%bb%d0%be%d0%b2%d1%81%d0%ba%d0%be%d0%b3%d0%be_
Demonstration of Putilov women workers on the first day of the February Revolution of 1917

emerge. Accounts of individuals demanding the Tsar to be the head of the new democratic state exemplify this.[2] The proletariat was detached from elite, class-based rhetoric and although its actions were an expression of its anger towards a bourgeois society, peasants were not necessarily consciously aware of this. For the peasantry this expressed itself in alternative forms, such as attacking the landowning elite and participating in the seizure of land.[3]

We must also remain aware that membership to a certain class does not necessarily make you conscious of the identity it holds, individually or collectively. This is not to discredit the proletariat, presenting it as an uneducated section of society, but we are now viewing the events of 1917 in a very politicised world, so we must remain conscious of this and how it effects our understanding of events.

2nd_moscow_women_death_corp_defending_winter_palace-_st-petersburg_november_1917
Women’s Battalion of Death defending the Winter Palace, November 1917.

This sharp difference between the elite and the proletariat perspective of the Revolution is only exacerbated by academics. The nature of history means there is a tendency to compartmentalise and order vast amounts of information, which thus enforces this top down, structured view of events. Having such rigid categories over-simplifies the complex nature of an individual’s identity. We see this with studies dealing with particular groups, such as the army, the intelligentsia, or working classes, whereby all individuals are rigidly categorised according to one social group, whether they are an industrial worker, peasant or sailor. Such literature builds a direct association between class, or social identity, and the Revolution.

It would also be a mistake to differentiate between two separate revolutions in 1917, one that overthrows the Tsar (the February Revolution), and one which crushes the provisional government (the October Revolution). Whilst many amongst the elites in Russian society may have also acknowledged a distinction, the workers and peasants living in its midst might have viewed it as a longer revolutionary period. Therefore there are two very

meeting_at_the_blagovescenskaya_square
Meeting at Blagovescenskaia Square, 1917

different views and experiences of revolutionary Russia – that of the more traditional and Leninist influenced view, and that of the lived experience of ordinary citizens. The latter must be brought more clearly into focus.

As Figes and Kolonitski suggest, the proletariat did not rise as one unified force in the way we, as historians, often suggest.[4] We need to be aware of individual experiences, and complex social identities, not just those of elite groups, as this ‘top-down’ narrative completely contradicts the purpose of the Revolution. To more accurately capture the spirit of 1917, we must challenge this traditional perspective, and form a narrative where the experience of the population is better represented.

Beth Pennyfather is a second year History and Politics undergraduate at the University of Sheffield. She is interested primarily in political aspects of modern history, which sparked her interest in the political language of writing the Russian Revolution.

References:

[1] V.I.Lenin, Letters From Afar: The First Stage of the First Revolution (1917).

[2] B. Koloantskii, ‘Democracy in the Political Consciousness of the February Revolution’, Slavic Review, 57:1 (Spring, 1998) pp. 95-106.

[3] S. Badcock, ”We’re for the Muzhik’s Party!’ Peasant Support for the Socialist Revolutionary Party during 1917′, Europe-Asia Studies, 53:1, (January, 2001), pp. 133-149.

[4] A. Figes and B. Kolonatskii, Interpreting the Russian Revolution: The Language and Symbols of 1917 (London, 1999), p.105.

 

Full Image Attributions:

Image 1: By English: Goldshtein G. Русский: Гольдштейн Г. Deutsch: Grigori Petrowitsch Goldstein (1870-1941) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image 2: See page for author [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image 3: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image 4: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons