17 SES 01 A, Education in times of totalitarianism
After Russian Revolution of 1917, Bolsheviks put forward, borrowing words from Bowen, a “breathtaking idea”, the greatest experiment in world history (Bowen, 1981) – to shape a higher physical and psychological creature – a human being of new type, the pure and ideal communist, namely, the ‘New Soviet Man’. “Through this purely idealistic vision that was taken from Marx and Engels, Lenin and his party carried out their utopian reforms in the hopes of recreating the perfect citizen” (Savage & Velikanova, 2011). The New Man became a part of the ideal society of future proclaimed by the Communists – totalitarian ideologies have the tendency to explain not what is, but what becomes (Arendt, 1971). The New Soviet Man existed as the ideal to strive for until the collapse of Soviet power in 1989. One of the most important edges of the New Man was the new Soviet virtues.
Together with Soviet Army troops and Communist functionaries, the concept of the New Soviet Man arrived in Latvia after World War II. Since education is always a strategic place for legitimizing the change of powers and introducing the new order, the shaping of New Man under the strict Communist supervision started in Latvian schools.
At the same time, the idea of New Soviet Man, and related with this, the concept of Soviet virtues, was supposed to be "sold" in public space, namely, propagated and explained to teachers, parents, and the general public in Latvia, which was rather suspicious regarding the Soviet power. The Communist Party's functionaries, reliable academicians, and teacher trainers took on this duty. In turn, teachers' task was to put the virtue education into practice.
The scheme of shaping New Man seems crystal clear, but starting to explore its realization in practice has revealed a number of uncertainties and inconsistencies in both theory and practice. Therefore following research questions were formulated:
1) What was the understanding of virtue education under dictatorship?
2) What were the legitimization arguments in favor of virtue education under dictatorship?
3) How to evaluate the practical results of virtue education?
This research is based on body of documents, namely, Decrees of Communist party congresses, the Soviet Union “Code of Students” (1943), documents related to the activities of youth organisations, such as the “Laws of the Pioneers” and the “Rules of the Octobrists.” The academic educational literature published under Soviet censure is another source about legitimization of virtue education addressed to teachers and other educational actors. Our sources were teaching manuals for teacher training from 1948 and 1971 and three collections of scientific papers written by the leading educational scholars of the Soviet Latvia published by the Latvian State University in 1962, 1964 and 1967 within the series “Questions about upbringing in the Soviet school”. This research could be completed further using primers (ABC books) and educational journals. The sources were analysed, looking for relevant excerpts related to the research questions: understanding of moral education, ideological legitimation (arguments), technologies of legitimation (propaganda and control techniques); and agents and methods for implementing character education. Key words were searched (moral, virtue, character, upbringing). When a relevant passage appeared, a memo of it was elaborated, indicating the source and the topic. Once all the sources were scanned, the memos were classified. The four main categories were developed in subcategories following a bottom-up approach, similar to grounded theory building. The emerging structure was then revised for internal coherence, the memos were arranged and reformulated for constructing a logical narrative. To evaluate the results of virtue upbringing in educational practice, we analyzed a few hundreds of ‘Students’ graduation reports’ from 1945 till 1985. Each graduate of the Soviet school received the special report. In it, a team of teachers evaluated the student's performance during school years, including his/her virtue qualities. The Students’ graduation reports were an important “entrance ticket” to the Soviet universities, where the learning places were limited. We found the characteristics of all the students of the Soviet era in the archives of the University of Latvia. The resulting data were also statistically processed using SPSS software.
The legitimization of virtue education in Soviet Latvia was based on the needs of the ideology, not on a common understanding of good and bad: “There is not, and it cannot be, any universal human morality. In a society which is divided into antagonistic classes, each class has its own morality” (Iļjina, 1969, p. 95). All human virtues were included in Soviet pedagogy, excepted tolerance (the image of the ‘enemy’ was clear). In the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism (1961), intolerance is mentioned 4 times in relation to the violation of the social interests, injustice, social parasitism, unfairness, careerism, and acquisitiveness, racial and national dislike and the enemies of communism. Virtue education was legitimized by political propaganda and intimidation. Communist party documents, Soviet academic literature and textbooks for teachers propagated the essence of Soviet virtues. Meanwhile, students’ evaluation in graduation reports disseminated fear and insecurity, namely, “bad” report meant risks to career and obstacles to climb up the Soviet social hierarchy. However, the analyses of students’ graduation reports confirmed that the intolerance highlighted in the official documents was not popular as virtue in the school everyday practice.
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