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Stalin’s School

Stalin’s School: Moscow’s Model School No. 25, 1931–1937

Larry E. Holmes
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    Stalin’s School
    Book Description:

    A different kind of history,Stalin's School brings a unique human dimension to the Soviet Union of the 1930s and a new understanding of Stalinism as a cultural and psychological phenomenon.From 1931 to 1937, School No. 25 was the most famous and most lavishly appointed school in the Soviet Union-instructing the children of such prominent parents as Joseph Stalin, head of the Communist Party, Viacheslav Molotov, head of the Soviet State, and Paul Robeson, American actor and singer. Relying on published records, materials in eleven archives, accounts left by visiting foreigners-including the prominent American educator George Counts-and thirty six interviews with surviving pupils from the 1930s, Holmes brings the school to life. The school's administrators, teachers, pupils, friends, and foes become companions as well as objects of this study as we walk the schools halls, enter its classrooms, eavesdrop on feuding officials who debate its fate, and learn something of what the school and the period meant for its youth. Photographs of the school's teachers and students, and reproductions of the students' notebooks, drawings, and watercolors add personality to this compelling story.Holmes uses the experience of School No. 25 as a microcosm and mirror of Stalinism, illuminating the interplay of state and society in decision making, and providing an opportunity to examine Stalinism from ideological, cultural, and psychological perspectives. While placing the school's history in the context of the coercion, corruption and repression of the 1930s, Holmes challenges the prevailing view that state and public spectacle on the one hand, and society and private life, on the other, were contrasting entities. School No. 25 molded these elements into an organic whole. In the intimate setting of Stalin's School, the degree of acceptance of Stalinism transcends historians' customary reference to the fear or privilege a Soviet citizen experienced. In a mutually reinforcing way, forced compliance and voluntary choice moved individual teachers and pupils to accept a structured environment both at school and in society as the means to a powerful, prosperous, and just Soviet Union.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7729-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. 3-20)

    All’s quiet now. Summer vacation has begun, the halls and classrooms are deserted. Almost. It’s July 10, 1993, and I’m inside Moscow’s School No. 175 with Vladimir Dmitrievich Nikolaev, a pupil here from 1933 to 1941. Once this was School No. 25, hallowed ground from 1931 to 1937, the most famous school in the Soviet Union and the object of my research for several years. It is a bit unnerving to imagine the sounds and images of the people who worked and played in these very rooms sixty years ago. Nikolaev interrupts, then enhances the experience: “This was the library;”...

  2. CHAPTER 1 Fame
    (pp. 21-30)

    In 1912 a three-storied structure of 42,629 cubic meters was built at No. 5 Pimenovskii (renamed Staropimenovskii in 1922), located in Moscow’s center, between Tverskaia and Malaia Dmitrovka streets. It served first as an addition to a private gymnasium, and after the 1917 revolution as a veterinary institute and then, in 1925, as School No. 38. One of two schools in the Krasnopresnensk district(raion)offering seven years of instruction, School No. 38 absorbed its sister institution, School No. 68, in 1930 to form School No. 25. At the end of the year, a redistricting placed the school in the...

  3. CHAPTER 2 Fortune
    (pp. 31-45)

    School No. 25’s fortune matched its fame. A generous budget, a large and well-appointed facility, and an adequate supply of paper, pens, textbooks, and notebooks made it one of the best supported, if not richest, schools in the USSR. Almost half of the school’s budget came from its many patrons who also provided valuable services in kind. They did not do so, however, without muscle applied by the school’s highly placed champions and by Groza and Tolstov who knew full well that their institution’s importance transcended its educational mission. Other schools in Moscow and throughout the Russian Republic lacked the...

  4. CHAPTER 3 Order
    (pp. 46-62)

    In early 1933, Boris Pil’niak praised his son’s school for its clockwork precision:

    School No. 25 beautifully organizes instruction.

    The school beautifully maintains discipline.

    The school beautifully keeps a daily regimen.¹

    Two years later, Tolstov asked a plenary session oflzvestiia’sfactory committee to extend into the home his school’s authoritative rhythm of daily life. The committee complied, recommending that upon returning home children follow a strict regime: completing their homework and submitting it to their parents for review; washing their hands before supper with their own soap and towel; cleaning their shoes; putting away their things; washing their feet;...

  5. CHAPTER 4 In the Vanguard of Reform
    (pp. 63-76)

    Decision making in the USSR amounted to more than the enunciation of policy, whether by a single person or a small group. Rather, decisions came as the final step in an often convoluted process in which many individuals and institutions participated. In matters of education, Stalin and the Central Committee, to be sure, but also Narkompros, the Moscow Department of Education, and district departments of education contributed to the formulation of policy. Sometimes in cooperation, sometimes in combat with these organs and their personnel, the administrators, teachers, and pupils at School No. 25 played a discernible role in procedures that...

  6. CHAPTER 5 The Curriculum: Legitimizing the Soviet Regime
    (pp. 77-107)

    In 1935 Bubnov declared School No. 25 to be a worthy instrument of Soviet state and society. “School No. 25 honorably discharges the great tasks put before it by the Party and Comrade Stalin—to provide the socialist motherland with educated, cultured, and active warriors for communism.”¹ That same year, Tolstov spoke of his school’s service to the Soviet regime. “On the banner of School No. 25 are printed the words of the great leader of the world’s proletariat, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin: ‘We must first of all learn to value people.’ The leadership and entire collective of School No. 25...

  7. CHAPTER 6 Power Politics
    (pp. 108-125)

    In 1927 Narkompros launched a campaign to find the best elementary school in the Russian Republic. The following year, the contest ended with few if any awards, the entire idea discredited by a cultural revolution that sanctified the collective rather than any single individual or institution. In June 193 1, however, at a conference of economic administrators, Stalin condemned leveling thereby setting into motion processes to reward and glorify (or demonize) a single person or institution. State and society created an impressive set of heroes, the process as remarkable as the result: deification of Stalin; canonization of Ivan the Terrible...

  8. CHAPTER 7 “The Corruption of Children”
    (pp. 126-148)

    School NO. 25 had its detractors envious of its success, angered by its elitist nature, and disgusted by the pomposity of its champions. Some of them wished to dethrone it and all model schools as a matter of egalitarian revolutionary principle. Their criticism, however, had run aground of political considerations that continued to assure the school of its good fortune into 1936. Yet not all signs augured well for the school’s future. Its budget cut by the state for increased military expenditures, Narkompros considered a reduction if not elimination of model schools, costly in comparison with their common brethren. Most...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 149-159)

    If only the writing of history were as easy as the schoolwork in “Petya’s Dream” by Boris Vladimirovich Zakhoder, a graduate of School No. 25 in 1935. Study of his school has been an intriguing, absorbing, and difficult experience. Its history brings us face to face with the complexity of human nature and institutions and with Stalinism as a social, cultural, and psychological phenomenon.

    In 1936, Kapusto wrote an essay about the novel,How the Steel Was Tempered,by Nikolai Ostrovsky (1904–1936). The book’s content and emotional intensity made the assignment a demanding one for Kapusto, a self-conscious child...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 160-162)

    Although removed from his post at School No. 25, Tolstov remained a member of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and Moscow Municipal Soviet and a frequent speaker at conferences of teachers.¹ Along with Shevchenko, he compiled a popular sixth grade reader in Russian literature, first published in 1939, the fourteenth edition of which appeared in 1954, a year after his death.² Groza became for a time the director of Moscow’s School No. 182. Her husband, Ivan Romanovich Groza, a top official in the Civil Aviation Agency, was arrested in 1938 and sentenced to a five-year term for his close association...

  11. Appendix 1. Teachers’ Salaries in Common and Model Schools, 1932–1934
    (pp. 163-164)
  12. Appendix 2. Vasilii Stalin as Schoolboy
    (pp. 165-168)
  13. Appendix 3. George Counts, School No. 25, and America
    (pp. 169-170)
  14. Abbreviations Used in Notes
    (pp. 171-172)