The October Revolution and Educational Transformation


C.N. Subramaniam

The Soviet Union was perhaps the most self-conscious attempt at comprehensive restructuring of society based on principles of equity, fraternity, and economic progress. It inherited a society and ways of thinking that were highly hierarchical and patriarchal that was dominated by a landed aristocracy and absolutist kingship but simultaneously had strong elements of communitarian life based on equality. What marked the Tsarist Empire was the wide diversity of nationalities and tribal communities extending from the Tundra in the far north to Uzbekistan in the south. The challenge of integrating these into a larger framework of egalitarian progress while simultaneously nurturing the diversity added to the complexity of the momentous experimentation.

The experience of Soviet Union has to be seen as one marked by a very creative dialogue between an idealist imagination of egalitarian but modern society, the inherited social institutions and ways of thinking and the exigencies imposed by a very hostile world keen to see the experiment fail. It was an experiment which was shaped by conscious choices made in response to concrete conditions and to the consequences of the choices previously made. It therefore can be grasped only by looking at it historically as human choices made in the flow of change.

Evolution of Socialist/communist critique of bourgeois mass education

Mass education evolved with the emergence of modern nation state, capitalist industrialisation and democratic revolutions, mainly during the course of 19th century. It also developed as an instrument of colonialism in non-European countries. Socialism too evolved alongside and it could not ignore the role being played by mass education in building the edifice of capitalist society and state. Robert Owen shaped the initial socialist discourse in the first half of 19th century when mass education was yet to evolve in Britain. He visualised socialisation of child care and upbringing so that individual families were freed from such responsibilities. This meant setting up public education as a cornerstone of his utopian communities. He campaigned for setting up a national public funded universal education system with schools and teacher education institutions managed by a public department of education. He also conceived of an elementary education which respected the freedom and choice of children and gave important space to music and dance at the cost of scholastic subjects. Owen shared with many of his contemporaries a fear of anarchic and unruly and indisciplined mind-set of the working class but unlike them was against using the fear and religion to discipline.

The Sunday schools run by philanthropists for working class children mainly focussed on the three Rs and Bible to be taught by rote to instil a sense of discipline in children. Instead Owen believed that all humans are inherently rational and perfectible and did not need fear of divine reprisal to be good. In developing a rational human being, he argued, memory and rote learning had no place. “Thus the child whose natural faculty of comparing ideas, or whose rational powers, shall be the soonest destroyed, if at the same time, he possess a memory to retain incongruities without connection, will become what is termed the first scholar in the class; and three-fourths of the time which ought to be devoted to the acquirement of useful instruction will be really occupied in destroying the mental power of the children” (R. Owen, A new view of society, or essays on the principle of the human character and the application of the principle of practice. London, 1814. Cited in Peter Gordon, Robert Owen, UNESCO, 1999). Education was to take place outside the class rooms amidst nature or the community. He was strongly against punishment as a method of disciplining children and instead insisted on understanding children and why they behaved the way they did. Some of the principles of his pedagogy can be gleaned from the following observations by Peter Gordon:

“The qualifies that Owen looked for(in selecting his teachers) were a love of children and willingness to follow his own instructions. No corporal punishment was to be administered, no harsh words were to be uttered by the teachers and the children were not to be ‘annoyed with books’. The young were encouraged to ask questions when their curiosity was aroused and, above all, they were to be happy. There were no prizes or punishments.”

Owenian schools developed what was termed the ‘objects method’ which used concrete objects as starting point of studies rather than text books. This came from “Owenite insistence that knowledge of the natural world was one of the means by which the mind could be freed from the preconceptions of existing society…. Objects were fragments of the world of nature, and children’s appreciation of them came through the senses, whereas books and teachers were a source of preconceptions. Hence the insistence of Owenite educationalists on placing ‘facts’ before children, on letting children make up their own minds, and hence also the distrust of textbooks and the importance placed on the interrogative method of teaching, based on knowledge gained by individual inquiry.” (W. A. C. Stewart, Progressives and Radicals in English Education 1750-1970, Palgrave Macmillan UK, 1972 p. 47-8)

Owenian schools also taught natural science as an important component of curriculum in an age in which science was not a part of the curriculum even of elite schools which focussed on teaching classics.

One of Owen’s early concerns related to the divorce between mental and physical labour. He wrote, ‘The natural standard of value is in principle human labour, on the combined manual and mental power of men called into action’. He advocated and tried to put into practice the principle of active learning through interaction with objects of diverse kinds and also productive activity in the fields and workshops. While an admirer of Andrew Bell’s methods (incidentally derived from the native schools of Madras) of teaching literacy and numeracy, Owen insisted that it was not the method of instruction but the substance of education that mattered. To him the object of education was to develop people who would be oriented to living in a productive and self-administering community of equals. Owenite cooperative schools also experimented with democratisation of school administration by giving students of senior classes a vote on all matters of management and giving all other classes a right to formally petition for any change they wanted.

While Owenian experiments at commune building failed and gave place to radical political working class movements of the Chartists, many elements of his educational ideas continued to inspire democratic educationists. Publicly funded Education for all children (including working children) which simultaneously developed autonomy of the individual and served the needs of egalitarian community; activity based education that formed a continuum with real life, integration of mental and physical labour, child centred pedagogy that encouraged initiative of the children…. Owenian conception of mass education was not necessarily proletarian or socialist but drew from broad democratic educational traditions of Europe and America.

Marx drew upon Owen’s ideas on education and appears to have broadly approved of it as can be seen from the references in the Capital. He especially underlined Owen’s rooting his education not in some utopian commune but a society based on industrial production and his emphasis on the combination of mental, physical and poly-technical education.

Marx wrote little about education and we have to glean his views strewn in his writings. One of the early formulations can be seen in Marx’s third Theses on Feuerbach: “The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that it is essential to educate the educator himself.”

This opened the crucial possibility of education and conscious human activity as instruments of change rather than being passively determined by the ‘circumstances and upbringing.’ This dialectical relation between education and social change would become one of the cornerstones of socialist/communist views on education. Much later in 1869 in his intervention in the debates of the First International, Marx returned to this issue: “On the one hand a change of social circumstances was required to establish a proper system of education, on the other hand a proper system of education was required to bring about a change of social circumstances; we must therefore commence where we were.” (from the Minutes of the General Council Meetings of August 10 and 17, 1869) In other words Marx wanted to discuss policy in the concrete context of the present society (capitalist societies under democratic states as in the US or under absolutist states like Prussia) rather than speculate about education in a future society. As to what was needed to be done in education here and now, the Manifesto makes one of the earliest statements: “Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc., etc.” Marx was aware of the link between compulsory schooling and abolition of child labour and saw the two as complementary to each other. At the curricular level the demand for combining productive labour with scholastic education was not just to develop a skilled labour force, but also to break the divorce between mental and physical labour. Both the issue of ‘public education’ and technical education were problematic and Marx was to return to them in the First International debates.

While supporting the idea of public funding of elementary education Marx was critical of state provisioning or control over education. He drew a line between what was termed as ‘national’ and ‘governmental’ education. To quote the Minutes of the meeting, “National education had been looked upon as governmental, but that was not necessarily the case…. Education might be national without being governmental. Government might appoint inspectors whose duty it was to see that the laws were obeyed, without any power of interfering with the course of education itself.”” He probably had in mind the American education system which was funded and maintained by the local communities through taxes and administered by elected committees which appointed teachers and selected books. While he appreciated the idea, he was quick to point out the need for some centralised intervention by the federal state so that education was not left exclusively to the ‘state of culture in each district’. (Minutes of the General Council Meetings of August 10 and 17, 1869)

One may conclude that Marx’s views on the matter of who should control mass education is thus complex. On the one hand he was clear that he was not in favour of ‘private’ education which would have meant that poor parents would not be able to provide for the education for their children. He was at the same time not prepared to hand over education to organised institutions like the state (government) or the Church which would have used education to mould the minds of the future citizens. “‘Elementary education by the state’ is altogether objectionable… supervising the fulfilment of these legal specifications by state inspectors, is a very different thing from appointing the state as the educator of the people! Government and church should rather be equally excluded from any influence on the school.” (Critique of Gotha Programme 1875)

While it is clear that here Marx specifically had in mind the regressive Prussian state, he was also making a general principle of separating education from both church and the state. His preference appears to have been for communities / municipalities to provide for free and universal education and administer through elected committees (control over teachers and curriculum). He was aware of the fact that local communities may be led by narrow concerns and hence supported setting up of national norms, “Defining by a general law the expenditures on the elementary schools, the qualifications of the teaching staff, the branches of instruction, etc.” (Critique of Gotha Programme 1875)

In practical terms he was arguing for provisioning and control by local communities under some kind of state supervision of ‘norms and standards’, balancing two poles. The communist movement appears to have somewhat ignored this important concern of Marx over state controlling education and his preference for locality and community control instead. (In fact it would appear that Gandhi’s Basic Education was also inspired by a similar discomfort over both state and private control of education.)

Of course it is possible to argue that Marx had in mind contemporary bureaucratic states like the Prussian state and not a democratic or socialist state. The fact remains that in the post World War II period communist movement in most countries has argued for state control over education in preference to local controls in the hope that a central state would be more ‘progressive’ and liable to rational engagement than multitudes of local bodies. Likewise socialist states under proletarian hegemony were expected to eschew the characteristics of states under capitalist or feudal-capitalist hegemony. This actually relates to the larger and vexed problem of the relation between proletarian hegemony and democracy, which we can take up at a later stage. Suffice here to quote a pregnant comment of Marx from his Critique of Gotha Programme, “Particularly, indeed, in the Prusso-German Empire (and one should not take refuge in the rotten subterfuge that one is speaking of a ‘state of the future’; we have seen how matters stand in this respect) the state has need, on the contrary, of a very stern education by the people.”

Marx was clear why public provisioning of elementary education was necessary: even though it raised funds for education through taxes, since tax fell mainly on the propertied classes (as it did in the 19th century) it was justified; “of course somebody had to pay, but not those who could least afford it.” (Minutes of the General Council Meetings, 1869) However, Marx was opposed to public funding of college education (Minutes) – perhaps on the assumption that it was mostly availed by the propertied classes who need not be subsidised by tax payers.

On the content of education Marx drew upon his philosophical conception of human being (‘man’ as he termed them) as a multifaceted personality who realised himself through productive and cooperative labour. Division of Labour which fragmented this personality and capitalist alienation which denigrated and deformed labour were the two main obstacles to the full realisation of human potentials. He saw in the growth of modern industry the destruction of the very basis of permanent division of labour as its continuous technological transformation cut asunder the relation of a worker to particular kind of labour and created the possibility of a multifaceted human being.

Modern industry “…is continuously transforming not only the technical basis of production, but also the functions of the worker and the social combination of the labour process… Thus large-scale industry, by definition, necessitates variation of labour, fluidity of functions, and the mobility of the worker in all directions. But on the other hand, in its capitalist form it reproduces the old division of labour with its ossified particularities.” Further, “large-scale industry, through its very catastrophes, makes the recognition of variation of labour and hence the fitness of the worker for the maximum number of different kinds of labour into a question of life and death.” However, the capitalist form of large scale industry which constantly throws out workers consigning them to the ‘reserve army of labour’ – “constantly threatens, by taking away the instruments of labour, to snatch from his hands the means of subsistence and, by suppressing his specialized function, to make him superfluous.” (Capital I, Penguin Edition, p. 617- 618) When workers gain control over this large industry and end its capitalist form a new possibility is opened up for human beings to realise their multidimensional potentials:

“That monstrosity (reserve army of labour? CNS)… must be replaced by the individual man who is absolutely available for the different kinds of labour required of him; the partially developed individual, who is merely the bearer of one of the specialised social functions, must be replaced by the totally developed individual, for whom the different social functions are different modes of activity he takes up in turn.” This fundamental social transformation would be accompanied by an appropriate system of education: “with the inevitable conquest of political power by the working class, technological education, both theoretical and practical, will take proper place in the schools of the workers.” (Capital I, p. 619) This transformation in part is facilitated by the expansion of society’s productive capacity which will enable reduction of ‘working hours’ allowing the human beings to take up diverse roles (as producers, artists, politicians, philosophers, crafts-persons,…). It will also be crucially facilitated by a new education for the children and adolescents which would combine productive work, cognitive development, and physical exercise/activity. It is in this sense that he saw great merit in Owenian conception of education. “As Robert Owen has shown us in detail, the germ of the education of the future is present in the factory system; this education will, in the case of every child over a given age, combine productive labour with instruction and gymnastics, not only as one of the methods of adding to the efficiency of production, but as the only method of producing fully developed human beings.” (Karl Marx, Capital I, Penguin, p. 614).

Marx also saw the seeds of this in the regulations of the Factory Acts, which required firms employing children to earmark certain hours for their education and also in the founding of technical and vocational schools which combined theoretical and practical aspects of mechanised production. (Capital I p. 618-19) He even favourably cites official reports which argue that these children who combine productive work in factories with schooling learn better than children who are in school fulltime as they are able to change the nature of their work during the day and hence able to concentrate better. This may explain the confidence with which he asserts that “ The combination of paid productive labour, mental education, bodily exercise and polytechnic training, would raise the working class far above the level of the higher and middle class.” (Marx-Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 21 (1867-1870) Moscow, 1985, p. 340).

In this context we need to reflect upon Marx’s ideas on childhood, child labour and education. The following notes on his ‘Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council’ (Sept 1866) summarise his views on the matter:

The tendency of modern industry to make children and juvenile persons of both sexes cooperate in the great work of social production is admitted to be a progressive, sound and legitimate tendency, although under capital it has been distorted into an abomination. In a rational state of society every child of the age of 9 years should begin to become a productive labourer so that no able-bodied adult person should have to be exempted from the general law of nature, which says: work in order to be able to eat, and work not only with the brain but with the hands too.

For the present, however, the Congress is concerned only with the working population. Here it distinguishes three classes of children and juvenile persons of both sexes, each of which is to be treated differently; the first class to range from 9 to 12, the second from 13 to 15, and the third from 16 to 17 years of age. It was proposed that the employment of the first class in any workshop or housework should be legally restricted to two, that of the second class to four, and that often third to six working hours,..

“…no parent and no employer should be allowed to use juvenile labour, except when combined with education. Three things were to be understood by education:

First, mental education.

Second, bodily education, such as is given in schools of gymnastics, and by military exercise.

Third, technological training, which imparts the general principles of all processes of production, and simultaneously initiates the child and young person in the practical use and handling of the elementary instruments of all trades.

A gradual and progressive course of mental, gymnastic, and technological training should correspond to the classification of the juvenile labourers. The costs of the technological schools should be partly met by the sale of their products.” (Marx-Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 21 (1867-1870) Moscow, 1985, p. 339-340).

It will be evident from the above that Marx argued for children above the age of 9 progressively engaging in productive labour (including wage labour) on the condition that it is accompanied by formal education and schooling. In fact he saw real productive work as an essential component of education, the other two components being academic and gymnastic. In advocating technical education Marx took pains to clarify that this was to be different training in specific ‘trades’ to prepare the children for a career in specific industries. It was to be a general polytechnical education introducing children to the nature of modern production in general. Further it would not just be a training in handling a particular process of production, but to understand all dimensions of the ‘business’ in both their practical and theoretical aspects. In his intervention in the General Council discussions in 1869 he was categorical on this point: “The technological training advocated by proletarian writers was meant to compensate for the deficiencies occasioned by the division [of] labour which prevented apprentices from acquiring a thorough knowledge of their business.” (Minutes of the General Council Meetings, 1869))

The International and its affiliated Parties were also agitating for reforms in the education system in the capitalist countries and not just visualising the future of education under proletarian hegemony. As such Marx was aware of the prospect of the ruling classes using schools to indoctrinate the future generations. This concern comes out clearly in his intervention in the debates of the General Council in 1869. He warned that the much acclaimed Prussian public education system “ was only calculated to make good soldiers.”(Minutes of the General Council Meetings, 1869)

Marx opposed the inclusion of subjects which admitted diverse interpretations based on political or ideological stances. “Nothing could be introduced either in primary, or higher schools that admitted of party and class interpretation. Only, subjects such as the physical sciences, grammar, etc., were fit matter for schools. The rules of grammar, for instance, could not differ, whether explained by a religious Tory or a free thinker. Subjects that admitted of different conclusions must be excluded and left for the adults…” (Minutes of the General Council Meetings, 1869)

Perhaps Marx was of the opinion that subjects that ‘ admitted of party and class interpretation’ when taught in public schools, would enable teachers of one or the other ideological persuasion to promote their viewpoint at the cost of the others. Hence his entreaty to exclude them from the domain of public schooling and teaching them outside the framework of schools.

Clearly Marx was apprehensive of the enormous power of the public education system which could be used to direct the thinking of the mass of the students even as he was aware of the importance of public funded mass education in both endowing the working class with necessary skills and foundations of knowledge. He was aware of a strong middle class hegemony over the education apparatus and was keen to contain its impact and demarcate between proletarian and middle class perspectives. While assessing Marx’s views on education we need to keep in mind the fact that public education system was just emerging in countries like England and its full impact and potential were yet to be seen.

About 150 years later we can see the impact of the massive machinery of indoctrination that school education has become. We also have the benefit of hindsight in being able to discern the ideological biases which even subjects like grammar and physical sciences are imbued with, something Marx seemed to have overlooked.

To what extent should Marx’s reservations extend to a state under proletarian hegemony is difficult to speculate upon. Marx himself consciously avoided such speculations and preferred to work with hard realities in front of him instead.

Marx did not anticipate the prospect of education acting as a vehicle of social mobility between classes. As such he was concerned about education of the labouring classes to the extent that it empowered them with basic tools of literacy and general knowledge and science and also professional skills and understanding. He was still not contemplating the prospect of working class children acquiring higher education and moving up in social scale or the opening up of professions to ‘merit’.

Marx’s focus was on political economy and larger structural issues relating to public education. However, the socialist/communist movement subsequently built upon the traditions of Owen and came out with a more comprehensive critique of public education under bourgeois states. We may consider two examples from either side of the Atlantic. The socialist/ communist movement in the pre-war period drew its educational ideas mainly from the liberal democratic traditions of Rousseau, Kant and Mill, the radical experiments of communities like the Quakers as well as the work of progressive educationists like Pestalozzi and John Dewey, besides Owen. By the turn of the century public education was well established not only in countries like Britain, US and Germany but also in colonies like India. Universalisation of elementary education had become an accepted idea. Thus the socialist views on education incorporated both a critique of the emerging education system and a visioning of an alternative to it from democratic and socialist viewpoints.

May Wood Simmons was an American Socialist teacher and writer who wrote an article on ‘Education and Socialism’ in 1901. (International Socialist Review, Vol. 1, No. 10, April 1, 1901) We will examine this article to understand the main currents of socialist views on education.

In Simmons’ view the purpose of education was not just to shape the individual and develop his or her personality, but to prepare him or her to understand and change the world around. “…education means not only the adaptation of the individual to his surroundings, but the training of him to understand his environment and thus giving to him the power to modify and change it.”” Literacy, science, history – all these were to be taught not so much as storehouses of information but as knowledge which will enable us to change the world around us.

The public education system as it had evolved mainly served the interests of the ruling classes of the times. “A careful survey of present educational methods and subjects of study must convince one that our schools are made to further the interests of the ruling industrial and commercial class of the time… In this way, education, which should aim at a rounded man and womanhood, is being used for the benefit entirely of the ruling class.”

Her main critique of American public education system was that in being geared to the needs of industry and commerce, it negated the individuality of each child and sought to create a standardised worker or consumer.

“Our system of industry to-day demands no individuality of the immense body of workmen. It has grown so far mechanical that in the great industrial establishments there is small need for the inventor or artist….

“Our school system has not advanced beyond the demands of the economic conditions. It has the same levelling effects. So many children promoted into a certain grade. The same work and way of doing this work is required of each one. The teacher with forty or fifty children in a grade has kittle opportunity to study the inclinations of each child. All are made to ‘toe the same mark.’ The whole system has become dull and mechanical. The very power of initiative is crushed out of the child.”

This erosion of individuality and initiative is complemented by the poor provisioning of the schools – poor and inadequate buildings, high pupil teacher ratio, acute shortage of teaching aids, labs and libraries…

She relates this state of affairs to the needs of the capitalist class to keep the mass of the workers ignorant and docile; “when it has found that ignorance, docile and unquestioning, (qualities) has served its purpose best it has reduced the labouring class to that condition.”

This is done by developing an education system and pedagogy that is cut off from life. Simmons draws upon John Dewey’s plea that “education should be a process or living and not a preparation for future living.” She writes, “The school to-day is an unnatural life calculated only to prepare one for future work. It has no relation either with the home or society. The life of the average American student is abnormal and returns him to society both scholastic and pedantic. To-day so-called education ends with the class-room instead of all of life being an education. Even the spirit of social solidarity and mutual interest is destroyed by the present system. For one boy to assist another in his task is a thing for which to be punished.”

Simmons calls for revolutionary transformation of education parallel to the transformation of the society. The ‘new education’ would be based on giving children experience instead of mere verbal instruction: “an effort… to put actual perception and observation of things by the senses in place of the mechanical instruction byword.”” She credits Robert Owen with the essentials of the new education: “he brought forward the demand that the intellectual and physical education should go hand in hand. That from the age of eight years up instruction should he united with regular labour in the house and garden. That from the thirteenth year children are to enter into the higher arts and trades and thereby be prepared to further the riches and well-being of society in the most effective manner with the greatest satisfaction to themselves. He comprehended the activity of labour in instruction not only as a necessary pedagogical end, but also as a means to the social production of goods.”

Productive labour was to provide the ground both for experiential learning and also for creative self expression of the individual.

“The new education and socialism are being developed from the same social conditions. They have as their object the same thing – freedom. Freedom for each one to develop his own methods of thought and his own initiative. To express in material form his inner being. It is recognized that to furnish this inner man and woman with material there must be supplied to them constant contact through their senses with the outside world, for that which is produced is but what has gone in through the senses, modified by each one s individual characteristics and tendencies.

“It is for this reason that the new education emphasizes the importance of work with tools and materials that the pupil may design and work out his design in a material form. Nature studies also are a prominent feature of the new education.”

Another concern evident in Simmons’ article is regarding the fragmentation of disciplines, each subject being taught as if it dealt with an autonomous sphere unrelated to each other. She appears to be in favour of integrated or inter disciplinary curriculum for schools, at any rate a curriculum which demonstrated the inter-linkages between different aspects of the world and human society. “For education to be of value it must present a unity in the things taught. Our old system has made each department of science an entirely new and foreign subject to the beginner, having no relation to anything either before or after… Every teacher should be able to take up subjects of study in due relation to society and the science of society – sociology. So far this unity or synthesis has been a subject of discussion among philosophers, but has received slight notice from the pedagogue.”

The combination of science, freedom and creativity would also be the foundation of Socialist Society: “Education under socialist conditions would produce men and women, not machines. As Marx has said, the end of socialism is ‘an association wherein the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all,’ ‘an economic order of society which together with the greatest possible development of social productive power secures the highest possible harmonious development of human beings.’

The citizens of the future socialist society would strive to master science so that they can strive for the betterment of all humanity and not just for the profit of a few. This idea of universalising scientific knowledge and utilising it for the benefit of all would become a consistent theme of left- wing movements among scientists and science educators. Simmons cites Prince Kropotkin, “We need to spread the truths already mastered by science, to make them part of our daily life, to render them common property.”

(Despite such democratic thinking there are several problematic issues in Simmons’ articles, especially a streak of racism and genetic determinism. She probably shared contemporary views that ‘criminals’ are born with certain genetic deformities and that when such persons reproduce they ‘weaken the race’. Such racist notions played havoc in the colonies and also the colonising countries.)

On the other side of the Atlantic, Sylvia Pankhurst reviewed the progress of mass education not only in England but also in colonies like India to make a fervent plea for strengthening it as a part of the struggle for communism. Pankhurst argued that the extension of mass education should not be seen as a design of the ruling classes, but as the result of the labour of those who pursued it out of love of humanity despite active opposition of capitalist employers. “It will profit us notching to discount the efforts of the pioneers by the false assertion that everything done to bring education to the masses was done purely to make them more useful to the exploiting class… The exploiting class, as a class, was opposed to popular education, and retarded every step of its progress” (Sylvia Pankhurst, “Education of the Masses” Dreadnought Pamphlet No. 1, 1918 ) In her review of Indian colonial education she points out that it was a tool of imperial acculturation and control, even though a large number of those striving for it were doing so out of altruistic motives. Yet the imperial policy of focussing on educating the elite and hoping that the educated elite will educate the masses came up for criticism: “The result is that only 3.39 per cent of the Indian people are touched by the educational system, whilst the proportion of the Indian male population in the secondary schools and universities is actually higher than in England and Wales. The more privileged sections of Indian society have grasped education for themselves and in the main, have left the masses in ignorance.”

Nadezhda Krupskaya, in collaboration with VI Lenin developed a comprehensive critique of bourgeois education and proposals for democratic and socialist transformation in the event of a revolution. Even though her focus was on Russian education, she was drawing upon the experience of other European countries and also the thinking of progressive educators like Pestalozzi and Dewey. She was to play a crucial role in the early educational experiments of Soviet government. It is difficult to access her writings prior to 1918 and anyway her principal writings were published only after the revolution.

In the earliest work accessible to us, (Concerning the question of Socialist Schools 1918) Krupskaya drew attention to the class character of bourgeois education, how the system is structured to educate the ruling elite, the petty bourgeois middle class and the working class and peasantry so that the class divisions are reinforced. These children go to different schools and there are clear barriers which prevent children of one class from entering schools of the other classes. The different kinds of schools envision different kinds of human beings, use different kind of curriculum and pedagogy to educate the children.

“If the school is for the ruling class then its objective is to bring up people who are able to enjoy and rule.” The best provided and most expensive schools are developed for them. “The children at such gymnasia are surrounded by tenderness and care, teachers give them freedom and trust. The very best teachers open their eyes to the aesthetic qualities of nature and the arts and introduce them to the holy of holies of science…. Efforts are also made to develop their willpower and persistence in pursuing their aims, efficiency and the ability to govern both themselves and others. At the same time teachers seek to instil in their pupils the firm foundations of a bourgeois outlook and to substantiate it historically, ethically and philosophically.””

Schools intended to educate the middle class seek to produce bureaucrats and ‘intellectuals’. “Particular emphasis is placed in such schools on the development of diligence, assiduity and scrupulousness, while the capacity for independent thinking, observation and judgement is suppressed. Most of the imparted knowledge is abstract and bookish…. In such schools particular emphasis is placed on the cult of the bourgeois state.” The obsession with bookish knowledge and disdain for manual labour form an effective barrier between the working people and such schools.

The public schools intended for the workers and peasants aimed at spreading limited literacy and numeracy so that the population can be better governed. The education is so designed that minimal knowledge is given to the children and that too “on the condition that pupils also assimilate bourgeois ideology. It is instilled in their minds that the bourgeois system… is the most reasonable just and the best one, that the rulers and superiors are the best persons and their instructions should be obeyed implicitly… Lessons in the country’s native language, geography and history are used to teach children the most unbridled chauvinism….The system of incentives, rewards, and punishments and marks is designed to provoke rivalry among pupils. In short, the objective of public schools is to instil the bourgeois morality in pupils, deaden their class consciousness and transform them into an obedient herd which can be easily controlled.”

Krupskaya quite succinctly puts her finger on the central issue of modern mass education. It is stratified, segregated, it has different aims for different segments of the population and the most enlightened education is reserved for the ruling classes. The schools are engaged in spreading bourgeois ideology which again has different shades for different segments.

Democratisation of schools can be achieved only by a democratic state whose primary task is to ‘make schools at all levels accessible to all sections of the population.’ Schooling needs to be reorganised to mould people who understand nature and society, who are capable of doing any kind of labour and who are keen to build a rational and happy life in society. “comprehensively prepared for labour, who can undertake any type of job, adapt to any machine and capable of engaging in intellectual labour that was until now the privilege of a special social stratum and that the population itself must be able to perform in order to be freed from dependence on the bureaucracy and thus become masters of their own lives.’” She outlined twofold objective for the new socialist school – the free development of the individuality of the child (‘Socialist schools are schools of freedom in which there is no room for regimentation, rote learning and cramming ) and expression of this individuality in useful and productive labour (‘leave the imprint of their own individuality on their work’). (All the above quotations of Krupskaya are from her article ‘Concerning the question of Socialist Schools’ from Nadezhda Krupskaya on the Labour oriented Education and Instruction, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1985, pp 47-53. The article was published in 1918 and was apparently written much earlier.)

While Lenin largely endorsed the positions of Krupskaya he added a significant dimension to the discussion on education: he was convinced that socialist culture had to be based on and draw upon the best in all cultures in human history, especially bourgeois culture and that it is not possible to visualise a proletarian culture which is created ad novo. Bourgeois education in depriving the working class children of this cultural heritage and making it an exclusive privilege of the ruling classes, was in effect cutting off the proletariat from all human heritage. In this he was echoing the views of an earlier generation of radicals like Kropotkin who had called for popularising science and philosophy among the masses. Lenin therefore advocated ensuring access to higher education to all children, and broadening of curriculum to include liberal arts, sciences, and literature. These were to be recast within a socialist mould through an integration with productive labour.

To sum up, the pre-revolutionary socialist/communist thinking on the issue of education drew from diverse sources, the experience of emerging mass education, philosophical critique of fragmented and class society and oppressive state, ‘progressivist’ conception of liberal democratic education, etc. It recognised in education an instrument of change rather than a tool for adaptation to environment. It saw education as a means of developing freedom and individuality which saw its fructification in productive labour. Given the clerical and scholastic origins of school education, the socialists were opposed to religious education as well as the scholastic distancing from real life processes. Education as it had evolved clearly demonstrated a class character and stratification which the socialists opposed in favour of universal access to a common education. They were also clear about the need for public provisioning of education so that all children can access it, but at the same time were apprehensive about state control over education. Socialists were also opposed to an education which required mere repetition of received wisdom and instead insisted on active learning in interaction with the environment, life, productive work and discussions. A recurrent theme in these discussions was the integration of mental and physical work, of academic and productive work, besides sports or gymnastics in the curriculum. Within academics too, there was a profound questioning of compartmentalising learning into distinct disciplines. The early socialists/communists were clearly opposed to the use of violence and systems of rewards and punishments in disciplining children and wanted to promote humane treatment of children giving them the initiative in learning. In fact democratisation of school management and giving students an active role in school management was also an important issue as it trained the younger generation in sustaining self administered communities. Many of these concerns were to play themselves out during the first decade of the Russian Revolution, not always in harmony with each other and often in conflict with each other.

Schooling on the eve of Revolution

Education in Tsarist Russia was designed primarily to cultivate a multinational nobility and bureaucracy. There were the state funded gymnasia with a predominantly classical education (emphasis on Latin, Greek, German languages). Entrance was by an examination which required much preparation and the scholars had to pay for their education. Both these ensured that only children from well to do families had access to them. About 60 percent of the students came from the nobility and the church, the urban mercantile classes accounting for a thirty percent and the remaining ten percent coming from other social classes including rich peasantry. Parallel to the gymnasia were the commercial ‘Realschule’ which taught practical subjects and did not focus on Latin. In addition there were exclusive schools for the nobility for the candidates entering the army etc, admission into which was open only the nobility. There were very few universities and entrance into them was through the gymnasia.

Mass elementary education was left to local schools run by district administration or the Church or private efforts. They focussed on teaching Russian reading and writing, arithmetic and the Bible. A student passing out of these schools was not automatically eligible for entrance into secondary schools like gymnasia or Realschule. Most of these schools were for boys and a very few for girls and perhaps none for both together.

Most of the schools were run on highly patriarchal principles with the Headmaster wielding complete control over the schools and the students being subjected to a high level of discipline and corporal punishments. The pedagogy emphasised rote learning and mastering the texts. Exams played a crucial role in schooling and in certifying scholars. For their part the students resorted to various methods of coping with this: ‘pranks, tricks, deceits, all kinds of ruses to obtain good marks, without actually knowing anything became the order of the day… School became a major source of hatred, no more.”” (Stanislav Shatsky, A Teacher’s Experience, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1981, p. 24)

It was left to socialist parties and such mass organisations to spread literacy and education among the working classes, which remained largely illiterate on the eve of the revolution. There were also a number of private initiatives which sought to experiment with progressive ideas in mass education, like the Yasnaya Polyana school of Leo Tolstoy or Good Life Camps of Stanislav Shatsky. Tolstoy’s writings on education were to have profound effect on both subsequent Russian educationists but also as far away as South Africa where Gandhi was inspired to set up his ‘Tolstoy Farm’.

As the Tsarist autocracy realised the need for reform and expansion of literacy to facilitate both industrialisation and building of a modern state, it sought to extend primary education. This was to be done in such a way as to spread literacy among the peasantry, without in anyway challenging the hold of the aristocracy and the urban elite over higher education. The 1905 revolution and subsequent establishment of quasi-democratic institutions, opened up debates on the nature of public education system, a debate in which the newly formed teachers unions participated actively. A nascent teacher’s movement had emerged during the 1905 Revolution under the All Russia Teacher’s Union (VUS) only to be suppressed by 1909. Reform proposals included democratisation of school management and dismantling of bureaucratic stranglehold, providing entrance to institutions of higher education to those passing out of elementary schools etc. These were strongly contested and opposed by the Tsarist bureaucracy, the Orthodox Church and the nobility. These debates themselves were short lived as the Duma was dissolved. The Tsarist government went on with its efforts to extend elementary education and also created systems for teacher education. The teacher education institutions became the focus of educational and pedagogical debates during the pre-war years. These half hearted attempts at extending primary education without enabling social mobility has led many scholars to argue that Tsarist Russia was well on its way to universalisation and modernisation of education but for the interruption caused by the War and Revolution. Indeed it is being argued that the Soviet education did not mark any break vis a vis Tsarism. Even if one were to concede that access to primary education had widened considerably in the last decades of Tsarism, the fact remains that the educational barriers to social mobility remained very much in place and Tsarism was not prepared to countenance any challenge to the privileged position of the ruling classes. (PL Alston, Education and the State in Tsarist Russia, Stanford, 1969, and Ben Eklof, ‘Russia and the Soviet Union: Schooling, Citizenship and the Reach of the State, 1870-1945’, in Laurence Brockliss, Mass Education and the Limits of State Building, 2012)

The two major issues that the Tsarist education system threw up were democratisation of educational administration so that the different ‘stakeholders’ like the teachers, pupils, parents and local communities had a voice in it, and restructuring the school system in such a way as to remove the social barriers that Tsarist autocracy had placed between primary to secondary and higher education.

Soviet Power and Education

When the new Soviet Government was named on the day following the revolution, Lunacharsky was to head the newly established Commissariat of Enlightenment. Lunacharsky was much aggrieved by the damage to historical monuments in Moscow and Petrograd and was on the verge of resignation and had to be persuaded to remain. When he walked into the Department of Education of the old Provisional Government, he was greeted by the lower technical staff but the entire officialdom had disappeared along with the files and funds. An emissary informed Lunacharsky that the officials considered the Soviet Government as an illegitimate usurper and cannot cooperate with it. The Teachers Union too had taken a similar position. The incipient Soviet Education Commissariat therefore had to restore the rudiments of school system. However this would not be a return to the old system, but the setting up of a democratic system. In fact, democratisation of school education was foremost on the agenda. Lunacharsky declared, “The State Education Commission is certainly not a central power directing educational institutions. On the contrary, all school affairs must be handed over to the organs of local self-government. The independent action of workers, soldiers and peasants’ cultural educational organisations must achieve full autonomy,” (cited in S Fitzpatrick, Commissariat of Enlightenment, p. 26)

During the first decade of its existence, the Commissariat did not have the bureaucratic structure or funds to act as a central directorial organisation. It saw its work primarily as a body laying down policies, developing models and suggestions and enacting necessary laws and regulations. Implementation was left to the local Soviets which were supposed to have the actual control over the schools and also the requisite funds. During the first years of the revolution when the old state structure was being demolished and new systems were being created with both central directives and spontaneous initiatives from below, the task which took priority was democratisation.

Democratisation was to be achieved by the creation of ‘Educational Soviets’ elected by all residents of a locality. The central commissariat was to function without any subordinate organ under its authority. This would place maximum responsibility and initiative with the masses. Initially the educational soviets were to be the controlling bodies at the local levels. There was much debate whether this was desirable particularly in view of the fact that majority of the population was composed of illiterate peasants whose trust in the Church was deep rooted. Krupskaya was an ardent defender of reducing bureaucratic structures and relying on the masses. “Let us not be afraid of the people, let us not be afraid that they will elect the wrong sort of representatives, bring in the priests…. Our job is to help the people in fact to take their fate into their own hands.” However, since this was not in line with the overall structure of soviet power, it was decided by June 1918 that these elected bodies would act as ‘advisory and controlling bodies’ alongside of local departments of education. (A Lunacharsky, On Education, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1981, p. 272) Besides elected representatives of the people, it was also to consist of elected representatives of teachers, pupils and informed persons (intelligentsia?).

Incidentally the anxiety about the priests retaining a hold was a real one. The decree on separation of religion from school and removal of the Bible from school curriculum (20 Jan 1918 decree ‘On freedom of conscience, the church and religious orders’ on separation of the Church from the State and school from the Church.) did not go down well with a large number of rural communities who wanted the local priests to teach the Bible in the schools. In fact many rural communities passed resolutions authorising the local priest to teach the Bible. In contrast the League of Militant Materialists pressed for teaching atheism in the schools. This too was resisted by the Commissariat on the plea that while atheism may be taught as a part of the work of Pioneers and Komsomols, they cannot be part of school curriculum.

The Soviet power also had to confront the hostility of the middle class teaching community and the unions which sided with the Provisional government. Lunacharsky made serious attempts to bring over the teachers to helping the Soviet government to restore and reform school education, but was consistently repulsed. The teachers of Moscow and Petrograd went on a long strike between December 1917 and March 1918 refusing to work for an ‘usurper’ government. Repeated appeals from the government fell on deaf ears. This earned them the wrath of mass of workers and their Soviets. Lunacharsky pointed out in a speech in August 1918: “A profound hostility and misunderstanding opened up between the teachers and the people. It became necessary to postpone reform of the schools, to map out ways of achieving it which would by-pass the progressive teachers and rely on the action of the people themselves.” (Lunacharsky, On Education, p. 14)

As even threats of mass dismissal did not deter the teachers, the Commissariat called for election of teachers by the Soviets and asked the old teachers to submit themselves to a process of re-election (or reappointment) by the Educational Soviets or the local soviets. (‘Decree on the elective nature of all teaching posts and the posts in the administration of education’ 7 Feb 1918) These popular bodies took a less lenient view of the striking teachers and agreed to elect and appoint only those who expressly agreed to support Soviet power. Being subjected to such a treatment by the mass of illiterate members of the lower classes made the teachers further embittered. Their sympathies and affiliations were more with the bourgeoisie and the upper middle classes whom they wanted to emulate. They considered this an unwarranted infringement of the autonomy of the school and undemocratic. The Commissariat tied to strike a balance and advised the Soviets that teachers should not be penalised for their political views and their re-election should be based on their professional competence and sincerity towards their work. The matter came up for discussion in the First All Russian Congress of Education, held in June 1918. Lunacharsky was blunt: “We cannot now believe in the possibility of working with them after their sabotage. Therefore we are for the re-election of the teachers…. We believe that better educationists will come from the people.” (S Fitzpatrick, The Commissariat of Enlightenment, p. 39) In his response the Teacher’s Union representative said: “They have put the schools under the systematic surveillance of the Soviets. They have conducted re-elections of teachers. They say the teacher is unreliable, and so has to be re-elected… This means that even in distant future there will be no autonomy. Freedom of education will perish…” (ibid) The Soviets and the other trade unions called for dissolution of the Teacher’s Union, mainly in view of its sympathies with the Whites during the Civil War and active assistance to White armies in several districts. The Commissariat resisted this pressure and continued to hope for a reconciliation with the Union. However, as the situation became impossible by the end of 1918, it was dissolved in December and its properties handed over to an experimental colony run by Shatsky. It took another year of debate and discussion to form an alternative union of teachers committed to the Soviet power and school reform.

However the stigma of collaboration with counter revolution stuck to the profession of teaching and even the new union failed to win the trust of the working class activists and rank and file Bolsheviks. The problem persisted well after the Thirteenth Congress of CPSU in 1924, in which a special note was taken of the fact that the teachers were now sympathetic to Soviet power and should no longer be discriminated against. Some of the leading members of the party like Zinoviev, Kalinin and Krupskaya, Radin had to intervene to turn the tide against the teachers. The discrimination took many forms including denial of voting rights, day to day confrontation with Komsomols in the schools and low priority in salary disbursals and being in general treated as NEPmen. Their salaries for example continued to be far less than the pre war level. The situation only improved after 1927.

This episode illustrates not just the special character of the pre revolutionary Russian teacher community but also the social character of the teacher community in general in a bourgeois society. Indeed the Russian teachers were opposed to Tsarist autocracy and fought against it, especially its bureaucratic control over the school system and regressive social policies. However, it was too closely tied up with the bourgeois society and culture to be sympathetic to a revolution led by proletarians and peasants who were largely uneducated at that time. Their ties with the bourgeoisie led them to actively oppose the Soviet power and its initiatives in education and in fact actively assist the counter revolutionary White Guards. This thus made it imperative for the Soviet power to ‘dismantle’ the school system and reconstitute it too. This indicates the general class character of the teaching community, which despite the presence of a number of democratically minded individual teachers, finds itself closer to the ethos and culture of the ruling classes which it aspires to emulate and become a member of. This then creates a distrust of the masses and also a disdain for their educational needs. While it may be possible to ‘re-educate this stratum’, it can happen only after the umbilical cord which connects it with the bourgeoisie (upper caste, patriarchal) is forcibly cut. At the same time, the revolutionary state which is keen to restructure the education system needs the cooperation of the school teachers (most of whom it inherits from the previous regimes) and needs to re-orient them and also itself learn to trust them. Simple antagonism with this strata may harm the cause of restructuring education.

A third dimension of democratisation of schools was student activism. Children of all ages could not but be deeply stirred by the transformations taking place all around them, the excitement of revolution and civil war and the angst of NEP. Especially the children of the working classes and peasantry who were able to emerge from the shadows of the middle class were aroused into political action. The Bolshevik party sought to channelize their energies by organising the Komsomols for the adolescent children and Pioneer movement for the still younger. These organisations took upon themselves the task of keeping vigilance and ensuring that the revolution did not lose its way. Lively debates on how to safeguard themselves from the bourgeois influences and how to cultivate proletarian and revolutionary spirit became the order of the day. For example we hear of the debate over issues as important as ‘is gold filling of teeth a mark of bourgeois culture?’ ‘is attending high school and college a mark of embourgeoisement?’ The students found their new found freedom to criticise their teachers and management of the school. This was to some extent encouraged to counter the right wing sympathies of the teachers. Even though the student representatives were in minority in the ‘school soviets’ or school management committees, day to day functioning of the schools had to confront what the teachers perceived as student indiscipline. The Commissariat too had called for ‘Pupils’ self-government’ which led to the formation of class committees and school committees of students and meetings to discuss various issues pertaining to the school and current developments. These meetings usually turned against the teachers and head masters and also against fellow students who were tried and punished for errant behaviour. The Commissariat and the Party often chided them for excessive belligerence and unwarranted interference in school management.

Even as student and youth activism sprang up across the country, many communist educators like AS Makarenko, Shatsky etc. tried to develop processes and institutions which embodied responsible ‘self-governance’ by children. Democratic principles of collective functioning like formulating rules of behaviour through discussion, abiding by them, entrusting leadership responsibilities by rotation, abiding by their decisions while retaining the right to review them in meetings etc. were tried out in practice.

Democratisation of education also took the form of unprecedented public participation in debates on educational issues and the formation of organisations by teachers, students and others. A large number of journals came to be published in which educationists, teachers and students debated issues and narrated their experiences. All these fed into public policy formulations and greatly influenced changes in those policies. In addition the popular student and teacher organisations conducted campaigns around key issues which often were critical of the policies being pursued by the Commissariat of Education or the Soviets. Even though much of this happened in forums aligned to the Bolshevik party and the Komsomols (Young Communist League) a large number of organisations representing other viewpoints too flourished. The Commissariat took much trouble to ensure that those who held opinions contrary to its own were not victimised. However, this space got considerably reduced during phases of purges and ‘Cultural Revolution’ when right wing or even independent viewpoints were treated as ‘bourgeois’ and victimised.

Structural Reforms in the period of ‘War Communism’

After nearly a year of intense debate over policy matters, the Commissariat announced its policy and programme for the future of Soviet Education in 30th September 1918 (Declaration and Statement on Unified Labour School – passed on 30th September and published on 16th October). Even earlier in the year some key decisions had been announced. These pertained to abolition of exams and the system of awarding marks and certificates and also to the introduction of co-education of the sexes. The declarations on Unified Labour Schools (ULS) were far reaching and ambitious in their scope. Education was to be ‘free, equal, compulsory and universal’ from the age of 8 to 17. Education was to be unified in the sense that there would be a single system of education in place of the myriad of schools (parish, church, agricultural schools, realschule, commerce schools, boys’ gymnasium, comprehensive secondary schools, girls’ gymnasium, and so on). There would be a five year primary section followed by a four year secondary education. This was to be a “single, uninterrupted staircase… All children must enter the same type of school and begin their education alike and all have the right alike to go up the ladder to its highest rungs.” With this ended what Lenin had characterised as the ‘caste’ organisation of education which enabled only the male members of the nobility and the bourgeoisie to pursue higher education, created gender and class segregated schools. Henceforth, children passing out from one level would automatically get admission into the higher level.

The Declaration on preschool education of November 1917 stated that all public education of children must start in the first few months of life. It also stated that pre-school education was to be organically linked with the entire network of educational structure. Pre-school education was considered important not only to prepare children for primary education but as a device to free women of much domestic drudgery and socialising child care. Pre-school education on a large scale was inaugurated in 1919. Eventually the Soviet Union was to build one of the most effective and universal pre-school child care and education system for children in the age group of 3 to 6 years.

Secondary education remained in focus due to the access it gave to higher education, white-collar jobs and positions of leadership in the Soviet society. Recognising the historical disadvantage which children from working class and peasant background suffered due to exclusion from both secondary education and higher education, the Soviet rule resorted to a policy of ‘positive discrimination’ in favour of such children. It was decided that children of Communists, workers, peasants etc were to be given priority in admissions. The policy was to be further streamlined and developed to ensure that more youth from working class background entered institutions of higher learning so as to provide effective leadership in various sectors.

The schools were to function on all days of the week for nine months (with an additional month of open air camps). Every week a day and a half was to be spent on clubs and excursions and a meal was to be served every day. Children were also to be supplied with clothing. There was a strong school of thought according to which upbringing of children was to be socialised and children should live for the most part in the school and function as a commune. It was expected that this will undermine the influence of ‘bourgeois family’ on the upbringing of children. (For example, N.I. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky: The ABC of Communism, Entry no. 79, Preparation for Life) Hence the insistence on a seven day week!

The ‘labour’ component of the policy had been much debated and a working understanding gave it a threefold meaning: it was to be activity based and not simply scholastic or bookish – this was said to be in accordance with the theories of learning; teaching was to be done with and through productive labour and finally the productive labour was not to be confined to one trade or industry but would introduce the students to a wide range of modern production processes and technology. Teaching was to be activity based, with minimal use of textbooks, without any homework, examination or punishment.

The curriculum to be followed was still not well defined. At the elementary level it included mother tongue, mathematics, besides ‘encyclopaedia of culture based on labour process’. In higher levels this was to include sociology based on evolution of social process (social evolution based on modes of production?). Aesthetic education and gymnastics too were to be part of the curriculum. The educationists in the Commissariat preferred a class room process which did not divide children very strictly into age based classes but mixed groups taking up project work, preferably based on productive labour. It also was against a curriculum which was compartmentalised into disciplinary areas like history or geography or math. Instead it visualised an integrated thematic learning centred around productive labour. It also visualised a school which would function as a living collective, with clear collective purpose and vision and communal decision making. These were considered the basis of the creation of a new Soviet and Communist individuals and society.

The 8th Party Congress held in 1919 endorsed the principle of polytechnical education to ‘familiarise the pupils with the theory and practice of all branches of production’. This close relation between study and labour was seen as essential to mould a communist citizen of the future.

Despite all the debates, these documents remained mere pious wishes. The conditions of revolution, civil war and extreme resource constraints had disrupted the functioning of the schools and the setting up of new schools. Enrolment of students and salaries of teachers had sunk much below the pre war level. The commissariat did not have any mechanism for retraining the teachers in the new ideas relating to education and pedagogy. Nor did it have an executive arm to implement its own orders. These were to be implemented by the local soviets. Thus when Krupskaya toured the provinces in 1919 she found she was confronted everywhere with opposition to the new decrees and poor implementation and sheer lack of understanding of what was being suggested. Ideas like Labour School was interpreted to mean getting children to do some useful work like washing clothes, cleaning the toilets, cutting fire wood and transporting water. The teachers still bitter after the long strike and travails of re-election, opposed the most progressive orders from the Commissariat. She wrote, “Nothing is coming from the United Labour School, it is all rubbish…. They understand from ‘democratisation’ the desire for parents’ committees and the independence of the teachers from the Soviets. The basic principle of the ULS, – that it must take into account local conditions, and be built by the teachers together with the people – is completely ignored.”” (cited in S Fitzpatrick, Commissariat of Enlightenment p. 56) Thus the two main ideas of democratisation and curricular reforms were yet to be realised on the ground. It was apparent that the Commissariat had to exercise a more decisive leadership in both curricular and organisational matters.

Nevertheless the year 1919 was to be an important year for Soviet education. Recognising the need to strengthen mass literacy and mass education as a primary objective of Soviet power, a decree was passed in December 1919 ‘On elimination of illiteracy” made it mandatory for soviet citizens under 50 years of age to attend literacy classes and become literate. A massive campaign for imparting literacy was undertaken and it met with a historic success. 1919 was also the year in which the ‘rabfaks’ or four year worker secondary school faculty were established to enable drop-out worker youth to acquire formal education. In the same year the rudiments of kindergartens were also established which were to play a very important role in bringing about universalisation of elementary education. Another major achievement of the Soviet power during the Civil War period was to address the problem of children rendered homeless due to the turmoil. Between 1922 more than four lakh [400,000] homeless children had been brought into residential colonies which became experimental grounds for innovative educators like AS Makarenko.

The Nationalities

The USSR consisted of some very developed non-Russian nationalities like the Ukraine and Georgia. They had a degree of industrialisation and urban proletariat besides an indigenous intelligentsia. They were quick to take charge of their educational matters and even though in constant debate with Russian Commissariat, were in tune with the emerging perspectives in education. However, there were a large number of Central Asian and Far northern republics and regions which were less developed. Most of the Central Asian republics were just emerging from pastoral nomadism and chiefdom with strong patriarchies and Islamic clerical control. The far north was largely dependent upon migrant hunting and gathering and limited nomadic animal herding with their own shamans. In the last phase of its colonial control the Tsarist multinational aristocracy aggressively pursued a policy of Russification of these nationalities forcing Russian language and culture on them.

Their incorporation into the USSR as ‘socialist’ nationalities meant that the union government had an obligation to foster social change in these societies, which required confronting patriarchy, chiefdom and the clergy. The Soviet government to begin with called for education in the native language of the child, thus reversing the Tsarist policy. The problem was that schooling in most of these nationalities if it existed was under the control of semi literate Islamic clergies in the form of Mektebs. The policy of separating religion from public education required the spread of secular modern school networks in these societies, which ensured the participation of all children including girls. This was a difficult task not only because the personnel and the schools had to be created from scratch, but also because most of these languages lacked a script. The first years of Soviet government was spent in developing scripts for these languages with the help of linguists using Cyrillic and Roman scripts. (Subsequently after 1937 there was a switch to Cyrillic to achieve script uniformity across the Union) Anna Louise Strong the American journalist who visited the USSR in early 1920s was effusive on this issue: “Now there is an Uzbek alphabet, reduced to simple Latin characters by learned philologists in Moscow in conference with those few Uzbeks who knew Russian. There are textbooks in the Uzbek language and schools in the Uzbek villages. When the Uzbeks send to Moscow for a teachers’ institute, the education authorities take it as a routine of business, instead of the gorgeous romance that it is.

For Russia is crammed with such romances. The Uzbeks are only one of a dozen petty nations that received alphabet and schools since the revolution. There are the Seranie, a Finnish tribe in the far north near Archangel. There are the Kutschi, a savage tribe in the Caucasus. And the Migrel and the Lazen and the Imeretiner, – and half a dozen more… In the Russia of the Revolution, there are schools carried on in sixty different languages, and textbooks printed in all of them. Some ten or twelve of these languages had first to be reduced to writing. This programme of teaching the new citizens of the soviets is based on a definite programme of equal chance for all races.”

J Dewey, who also visited the USSR during the same period, was equally impressed: “Aside from immediate educational results, one is impressed with the idea that the scrupulous regard for cultural independence characteristic of the Soviet regime is one of the chief causes of its stability, in view of the non-communist beliefs of most of these populations. Going a little further, one may say that the freedom from race- and color-prejudice characteristic of the regime is one of the greatest assets in Bolshevist propaganda among Asiatic peoples.” This he contrasted with the racism and chauvinism characteristic of European colonial policies.

In Kazakhstan for example, despite the network of mektebs the pre-revolutionary literacy level (1916) was only 2 to 4%. After its incorporation into the USSR in 1920s an extensive system of education encompassing pre-school, primary and secondary schools was constructed, and the higher education system was established for the first time in Kazakhstan. All educational institutions were state owned and controlled and offered education free of charge. The priority in the early 1920s was liquidation of illiteracy and universalising access to education. Educational policies were drafted by the Kazakh Party (Alash) consisting mostly of communist intelligentsia which helped to develop a Roman script for the language in place of the old Arabic script in 1929. (Scripts were developed for a number of minority languages of Kazakhstan too.) The first text books were produced and teachers trained. Subsequently, general primary education was implemented in Kazakhstan, education being provided in the languages of all the ethnic nationalities residing in the territory of Kazakhstan.

The struggle against patriarchy was more difficult as it required a change within families to enable women to stand up for their rights. The readers are recommended a touching novelette by Chingiz Aitamatov entitled Duishen, a moving story of a village Komsomol volunteer teacher who set up one of the first schools.

The Soviet policy towards the nationalities has not been without its critics. It has been charged that the USSR pushed for Roman or Cyrillic script so as to prevent the use of Arabic which may have enabled an alternative Pan-Islamic mobilisation. This is said to have resulted in a loss of access to classical literature generated by the traditional scholars of Central Asia, of such civilizational centres like Bokhara and Samarkand. Likewise it has also been suggested that the Soviet authorities consciously consolidated more languages in Central Asia than there were, again to prevent nationalistic mobilisations like the Pan-Turkic movement. Even if this were true we need to appreciate the potential dangers of Pan-Islamic or Pan Turkic movements in the Inter-War period.

Experimentation with ideas of Progressive and Polytechnical Education

As the Civil War drew to a close and the Soviet power launched the New Economic Policy, the economy gradually began to revive and the Commissariat had the peace to carry forward its programmes. Funds were still a problem as the Central Commissariat and the local Soviets were on strappy budgets. Hence the schools had to charge a fee on students from primary to higher level, between 1922 to 1927. Even though the fee in primary schools was abolished in 1927, it was retained on secondary and higher education. Concessions were given on the basis of student’s class background, but nevertheless it was inhibitive enough to reinforce middle class domination of secondary and higher education. This was the new middle class of salaried employees of the state and NEPmen and prosperous peasants. Financial considerations also severely constrained the prospects of universalising education across the country in terms of opening new schools, appointing teachers, training teachers and providing instructional materials to schools.

However, the NEP period also saw the stabilisation of experimentation in curricular and pedagogical matters. The Academic Council (called GUS) of the Commissariat brought into its fold the leading educationists of Russia – both Marxists and non-Marxists like Blonsky and Shatsky – in order to develop a curriculum for the primary and secondary schools. The primary objective of the Commissariat and the GUS was to develop a common and universal schooling for all children irrespective of trade or class, and to give all future citizens a common basic education. This was not easy as the pressure for immediate employability and the ideal of learning from local context pushed education into old segmented frameworks. Hence schools for white-collar jobs, for training skilled workers in different trades, schools focussing on agriculture, and schools for training state and party leaders, were in great demand. There were also pressures to create special schools for children talented in music, mathematics etc. Even as such requirements were being met on the ground, the Commissariat sought to break free of this ‘caste’ structuring and create a genuinely common schooling which provided all children with a common grounding. While there was less of debate over primary curriculum, the implementation was not easy as the teachers trained and used to old methods had little sympathy for the new ideas and did not feel comfortable with them. However, the bone of contention was the secondary curriculum as it was directly related to the employability and access to higher education.

There were a number of currents of curricular reform which converged on some important points but diverged on a number of key issues. On the one hand there was the well articulated ideas relating to Progressive Education advocated by John Dewey in the USA which sought to bring school and ‘life’ close to each other and advocated real life productive work as an essential component of education but disapproving of the teaching ‘specialist knowledge’ based on disciplines in elementary level. Dewey’s methods were closer to the socialist ideas relating to education. Dewey had been invited to set up the secular public education system in Turkey under Kemal Ataturk and he also visited Revolutionary Russia and expressed his admiration of the direction of reforms. He also remarked on how the Soviet methods differed from the American ‘project method’ etc. and grudgingly acknowledged that implementation of progressive ideas in mass education was made possible by the Socialist convictions of the leadership and the shift from competitive capitalism to socialist economic and social system. (J Dewey, Impressions of Socialist Russia and Revolutionary World, New York, 1929)

Among the Russian inspirations Pavel Blonsky and Stanislav Shatsky were particularly important as they both advocated the principles of integrating productive labour in education and fusion of physical labour, games, artistic activity, intellectual work, and social and communal living. Both of them had a strong background of experimental work during the Tsarist period and had been inducted into the Commissariat of Education, even though they were not known to be Bolsheviks. Both of them also drew upon the mid 19th century Russian educationist, Konstantin Ushinsky who had called for restoring the link between the school and life and for incorporating productive labour in curriculum. According to Zajda “Ushinsky’s educational theory, based on empirical sensualism, concerning moral upbringing, patriotism, work training, and self-discipline, lends itself to an interpretation that is readily acceptable for communist upbringing.”” (Joseph I Zajda, Education in the USSR, Sydney, 1980, p. 8)

Another trend came from working class radicalism which rejected aristocratic education and its emphasis on classical learning and ignoring productive labour. By extension they came to consider all education which placed premium on academic learning as ‘bourgeois’. They wanted an education that trained the youth for labour in the factories and gave them minimal political education. A similar but somewhat different line of thinking was of those who pressed for linking education to the immediate needs of the economy – in terms of training the requisite number of workers skilled in one or other sphere of production.

Most of the old guard Bolsheviks like Lenin were convinced that the working class cannot bypass the knowledge generated in the past and claim the right to rule. It had to master the ‘bourgeois’ knowledge and rework it. Thus mere dismissal of academic learning as a relic of class oppression cannot be an acceptable policy. Lenin tried to impress upon the young radical Komsomol activists of the need to master the entire wealth of past human culture and knowledge as they were given to a radical notion of rejecting all academic knowledge.

At the very outset in 1920 a ‘Recommended curricula and recommended syllabi’ were announced which did away with the Tsarist emphasis on classical languages and Bible. These were replaced by a primary education focussing on Russian, mathematics, Social Science, Life Science, physical and art education. Physics, Chemistry, Geography, and a foreign language were to be added from grade 6th onwards. Quite clearly the earlier classical and religious education of Tsarist gymnasium had been replaced with science. However, these were ‘not obligatory and the schools were able to make considerable alterations to them according to local circumstances.’ (Lunacharsky, On Education, notes, p. 297-8). The educationists at GUS were not in favour of the disciplinary structure of primary and secondary education. They worked on the idea of integrating all the subject areas into a composite thematic course which drew from diverse disciplinary areas and also integrated group work and productive work. A new curriculum for four year primary schooling was announced in 1923. This drew inspiration from the progressive educational thinking in Europe and America which sought to move away from the compartmentalisations of formal education – breaking the school into grades, subjects, and the distancing of school from life.

The cornerstone of the new curriculum was the ‘complex method’, which replaced the teaching of subjects (including reading and writing) with integrated themes. “These themes were to be socially oriented and related directly to the child’s environment and experience of the world. From studying the familiar and domestic in his first school years, the child would progress to a study of the world beyond his own immediate horizons. Each theme was studied under three basic headings: Nature, Society and Labour.” (S Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union 1921-1934 p. 20) The themes were to be such as man, steamboat, sheep, agriculture, day of the female worker, First of May, etc. Each of these was to be studied with reference to nature, labour process and society. Literacy and numeracy were to be acquired not in isolation but in the meaningful context of understanding these themes: “mastery of skills of speaking writhing, reading counting and measurement must be closely linked with the study of the real world; and arithmetic and Russian language must not exist in the school as separate subjects.”” (cited in ibid) Language, maths, art and labour were to be treated only as a means of studying, rather than as ends in themselves. Observation, independent work, excursions, laboratory work and productive work were to be used as methods of teaching and learning. In terms of pedagogy the current favourite were the ‘Methods’ Theory and ‘Universal’ theory; the former saw the aim of school education as enabling children to ‘master methods of perception’ rather than acquisition of knowledge. The latter insisted on giving children the freedom to discover knowledge for themselves rather than being told by the teacher or text books.

Krupskaya was the most articulate advocate of ‘polytechnical education’. In her ‘Theses on Polytechnical schools’ (1920) to the First Party Conference on Public Education, she argued:

“5. Polytechnical education should mainly be provided at the secondary school which is organisationally linked, however, with both the elementary and vocational schools.

6. The elementary school (7-12 years) provides general, mathematics and graphic knowledge and teaches pupils how to transform books, mathematics and drawings into instruments of labour. It teaches how to observe, make generalisations, and verify them through experimentation, while providing knowledge of the basic methods of self education and elementary knowledge of reality (study of nature and society). In the elementary school knowledge is acquired through work… Its character must be that of collective participation in the elementary forms of social labour and it must provide elementary work skills…

8. The secondary school (13-17) years is concerned with teaching general aspects of production and they are studied in terms of both theory and practice. The most basic branches of production are studied, and particular emphasis is made on a theoretical explanation of practical activities. At the same time the history of labour is studied…

9. Practical work during the winter should be industrial in nature, it should be closely linked to work at large factories… During summer it should take place on large state farms etc.”

She had also argued that students would be prepared for streaming only after the completion of the secondary schooling in age 16-17.

To Krupskaya polytechnical education was not a subject to be specially taught but an approach to education which incorporated productive labour in the teaching of all themes and which helped children develop theoretical understanding of labour processes. In this it differed from skill or vocational education which focussed on specific trade related skills, and from conventional academic education which divorced theoretical-subject studies from productive labour. Engagement with productive labour should be done both within school workshop and also in factories and state farms. She elaborated these ideas all through her life as can be seen in her draft of a decision of the Commissariat on ‘reworking labour education programmes’ in 1932.

The role of productive labour in education and the nature of such labour was a subject of much lively debate in those eventful years. Lunacharsky, referring to the interpretation of labour school during the period of War Communism in which children were expected to ‘work for themselves’ (carting firewood and cleaning premises etc) said in a debate in the House of Soviets in December 1922: “but if today children are chopping wood, getting the dinner carrying water and doing exactly the same tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, then the result is not any great mental development or even physical developments. It is work of a pretty deadening nature. We communists strive to get rid of this kind of work altogether.” This may have been justified by the hard conditions of Civil War but not any longer. Instead, Lunacharsky argued “that educational value attaches only to work of a specific kind, work through which more and more useful skills are learned, acquired and established, and which also yields an appreciable amount of knowledge gained, along the way and just because the child is working.”” (Lunacharsky On Education, pp. 127-8) The Commissariat recommended work as an educational experience and not work for the sake of carrying on basic tasks of life or for the maintenance of the school. In the early primary stage labour was to overlap with children’s play. “Play is a method of self-education… the whole task of the kindergarten and of the first years at school is to help children to play usefully! When children dance sing, cut things out, mould material into shapes, they are learning. Those in charge of them must so choose their games that every day a fresh knowledge is emerging, every day the children are gaining something, everyday they are able to learn this or that small skill… (F)rom play the transition must be made to work, in the widest sense of the world” (Lunacharsky, op cit ppp. 97-8)

The curriculum for secondary grades (grade V to IX) sought to combine the ‘complex’ method with disciplinary knowledge. Physical and life sciences were grouped under Nature study and history and literature were put under Society study. Labour became a separate subject focussing on theoretical aspects of production like technology, organisation of production and the history of labour. Language and mathematics continued to be treated as a part of other subject areas. Indeed it was claimed that ‘math in itself does not have any educational value in the school’. Subject based teaching was still discouraged. Lunacharsky seemed to be influenced by Dewey in rejecting the need for ‘specialist knowledge’ (or systematic teaching of subject areas) in secondary schools. “The secondary school exists in order to initiate the student in the basic labour and cognitive methods and the basic approaches to labour and knowledge of all kinds that he will use later in life.” (cited in S Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union 1921-1934 p. 22)

The commissariat constantly faced criticism for its pursuit of such radical educational ideas. On the one hand most of the teachers had been trained in the old methods of teaching and did not take easily to the new ideas. The commissariat did not have the resources to organise en masse retraining of the teachers. The progressive ideas were often interpreted as a licence for a lot of aimless activity and little teaching. The result was felt to be a chaos and lowering of the learning levels of children. Institutions of higher learning and employers constantly complained of poor learning by students graduating from the new Soviet schools. While there may be some truth in them, these complaints appear to be stock in trade of all evaluations of education systems across world and across the century. A century down the line from different parts of the world we hear similar complaints and these need to be seen more as outcomes of misplaced expectations from mass education systems rather than a true evaluation of the performance of those systems. Indeed very similar complaints were made even in the USSR on the eve of major curricular changes in 1923, 1927, 1931 and 1956.

In fact studies which went into the education of the scientists responsible for the Sputnik, showed that they were products of the pre- 1930 schooling. In other words the education of the generation that launched the Sputnik (an event which got the western world worried about the state of its mass education and science education in particular), belonged to this ‘progressive’ or ‘anarchic’ period of Soviet education! In many ways this was also the generation that led Soviet industrialisation and the anti-Fascist War to victory. In other words we cannot judge the impact of a kind of schooling just by the immediate perception of its output. The generation which went to school between 1920 and 1932 had received a special input which stood the infant worker’s state in the process of socialist construction under extremely hostile conditions. Let us now turn to this.

The generation between 1920 and 1930 saw three major shifts in the social evolution of post revolutionary Russia: the civil war, the NEP and the beginning of planned industrialisation. These three momentous social experiences infused the generation with deep and complex social experiences; experiences in which the youth was not at the receiving end but was actively shaping them through their collective action.

Despite constant debate and changes, there was a broad continuity in curricular and pedagogic matters till 1932 when major shifts were brought about. Continuity consisted of rejection of disciplinary boundaries, use of the so called ‘complex’ or thematic-project method and engagement with productive work both inside and outside the schools. It was also a period when students and even teachers were freed of bureaucratic controls and were free to plan the work of the school.

With the coming of the First Five Year plan and collectivisation of agriculture major upheavals occurred in both the cities and the villages. At this juncture the Party initiated the ‘Cultural Revolution’. The students and the youth in general participated with much enthusiasm in this and this was to transform the educational landscape and radically reinterpret the new curriculum and pedagogy initiated by the October Revolution.

The year 1928-29 also saw a change in the leadership of the Commissariat as Lunacharsky resigned over differences on two major issues: one related to shifting of control over technical institutions to the Industry Commissariat and over aggressive purge of students belonging to children of disenfranchised social groups from schools and institutions of higher learning. The Komsomols had been critical of what they considered to be rightist and bureaucratic handling of educational affairs by Lunacharsky mainly due to his defence of general education at the secondary level. The Cultural Revolution was marked by an aggressive literacy campaign both in the town and country and also a move towards activation of the ‘educational soviets’ drawing upon the initiative of workers, teacher activists and Komsomol personnel. Indeed it was considered that they would replace the department of education altogether, though this was rejected by the Soviet government.

Lunacharsky was replaced by AS Bubnov who inducted some of the more radical intellectuals like VN Shulgin into academic leadership. They had been complaining that while Soviet adults were experiencing the revolution, the children were being deprived of this experience as they continued to go to school which functioned much the same hierarchical way as in pre revolutionary times. Shulgin was of the opinion that children should be schooled in real life rather than in class rooms; that the school should ‘wither away’ under conditions of socialism and the alienation experienced by children in bourgeois schools should come to an end. He believed that social environment played a great role in shaping individuals and hoped that exposure to the revolutionary social environment of post-revolutionary Russia would facilitate the shaping of future socialist human beings. This meant that children should become part and parcel of construction of socialism and its struggles instead of spending their time within the four walls of the class room and studying books under the tutelage of an authoritarian teacher. He wrote in 1927,

“The school is ceasing to be a school, is withering away as a school… The teacher is withering away…. A specialist in a given branch of labour will work [with the children in the factory or in other production situations]. True, he will at the same time be an educator. But that is a completely different thing. He will not be a teacher at all. And there will be nothing for him to do in the school…” (quoted in S Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union, p. 143) This raised serious questions about the role of schooling and teaching especially in the secondary stage in education and upbringing. Shulgin wrote in the midst of a serious debate on the relative merits of general secondary schooling and apprenticeship schools attached to factories in 1928-9: “The secondary school stands on the edge of a freshly-dug grave. It is so obvious. Students in their hundreds and thousands are leaving and, after all, this is only the beginning… [The apprenticeship school] will go on and on attracting students, not just for one year – and what will happen then? A new poly-technical school, our school, will grow. It was born in the factory, and it is there that it will grow to full strength.”(ibid, p. 148-9) He advocated that what the Komsomols and Young Pioneers did outside the schools (participating in social-political campaigns and economic construction) should become integral to the ‘project method’ of teaching in the schools. In other words students should learn by participating in the larger campaign for literacy, collectivisation of agriculture and industrialisation. In 1930 the Congress on Polytechnical education resolved to link even primary schools with neighbouring factories, collective or state farms. These in turn were to become the patrons of the schools introducing the children to production process and also using children’s labour. This had varying success as many factories were reluctant to take on this additional responsibility while others short of hands welcomed it. Use of child labour became rampant in collective and state farms which could always do with some extra hands. As a result children spent less hours in the schools learning and more hours out of school. Out of school work not only included work in the factories and fields, but also active participation in literacy campaigns where children had to mobilise and teach reluctant adults of the towns and villages.

Within the schools too traditional methods of teaching and even textbooks were looked down upon as relics of Tsarist schools. Instead it became fashionable to talk of ‘loose leaf books’ – or worksheets to made as per requirement by the teacher and handed over to the students for self study/task assignment. Yet another new idea in the field of text book was the ‘journal textbook’ – a journal which published text materials in ten issues a year so as to keep pace with the changes in ideas relating to the subjects and teaching. On the eve of the second five year plan the Commissariat had drafted even more radical proposals to send children to do paid labour and make their school self sufficient.

On the ground itself the actual realties were complex and diverse – ranging from enthusiastic adoption of the new ideas, selective implementation and even more radical experimentation to conservative continuation of old methods of textbook and subject based teaching. All said and done the students got a first-hand experience of revolutionary struggles being waged in the real life outside, during those heady days of debate, experimentation and mass engagement in struggles over industrialisation and collectivisation.

This could not last long though. In 1931-32 the Central Committee of the Party and Stalin personally seriously addressed issues relating to school education and sought to restore order and normalcy in the schools. The Central Committee took note of the fact that teaching in schools had been adversely affected by a number of developments: the complex-project method which rejected teaching of subjects in a systematic manner, the denial of class room discipline and the authority of the teacher, the rejection of text books, excessive political engagement of students outside of the schools, constant purging of students and teachers from non-worker- peasant backgrounds… etc. This had led to what was seen as insufficient learning outcomes on the part of the graduates of schooling. The new commissar of education, Bubnov conceded in 1931: “It must be said with the greatest severity that the 7-year school is not giving an adequate educational preparation for the technicums….” (quoted in S Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union, p. 221) The central Committee moved in decisively with several resolutions between 1931 to 1935: ‘On Elementary and Secondary Schools’ (25th August 1931) and ‘Concerning Curricula and the daily time tables in Elementary and Secondary schools’ (25th August 1932), ‘On the study programmes and regime in Elementary and Secondary schools (25th August 1932), ‘On textbooks for the elementary and middle schools (12th February 1933), ‘on the overloading of school children and Pioneers with social and political tasks’ (23rd April 1934), two resolutions on teaching of history and geography in schools (May 1933) and several other resolutions.

The 25th August 1931 Resolution called attention to the serious state of elementary education: “it does not give a sufficient amount of general knowledge, and does not adequately solve the problem of training fully liberate persons with a good grasp of the bases of the sciences (physics, chemistry, mathematics, national language, geography etc) for entrance to technicums and higher schools.”” It denounced the ‘complex method’ and also the idea of deploying children outside of school in the name of ‘withering away of the school’. It called for restoration of teaching of these basic subjects and introduction of firm time tables.

The Central Committee still stuck to the principle of Polytechnical education in the August 1931 resolution. “In view of the fact that polytechnical training is a component part of communist education  … the commissariats are recommended to develop a broad network of workshops and work rooms in schools during 1931 and combine this activity with attaching schools to enterprises, state farms, machine tractor stations and collective farms on the basis of agreements.” However, it immediately added, “Instruction and productive labour should be combined in such a way that the pupils’ socially productive labour is subordinated to the schools educational objectives” (cited in N Krupskaya, On Labour Oriented Education and Instruction, Moscow, p. 105) In other words it wanted to ensure that the primacy of subject teaching should not be compromised.

The 1932 resolutions were even more far reaching: the practice of work brigades being sent to factories, and state farms were to be discontinued and instead class room teaching was to be the pivot of schooling. Students were to be regularly examined in each subject before being promoted. School discipline was to be restored and students who persisted in insulting teachers or violated school administration’s instructions were to be expelled.

In 1933 the Central Committee came down heavily upon the loose leaf text books and the journal textbooks. It ridiculed this regime and called for publishing firm textbooks; in fact common text books were to be published for all the constituent republics for all subjects except the ‘local region studies’.

The 1934 resolution deplored the practice of sending school children to work in the name of social work; children’s free days and time ‘must be used entirely and only for recreational purposes (walks, skiing, skating etc)’

To Krupskaya’s chagrin this emphasis on formal learning of subjects was accompanied by gradual weakening of the ‘polytechnical’ component. The schools were ill equipped, and the teachers ill prepared to handle the requirements of polytechnical education and the factories under pressure to complete their plan targets were not keen on entertaining the mass of children. Despite the lip service paid in the 1931 resolution polytechnical education was given a formal burial in 1937. A Khrushchevite book on the history of polytechnical education in the USSR recounts the events thus:

“The way in which labour instruction had been tackled in the general education schools was in sharp contrast to the steadily rising level of instruction in general subjects. Lack of qualified labour teachers and poor technical equipment in the workshops had led to a situation in which labour instruction bore a craft character, was divorced from scientific principles and modern production and was not serving the purpose of polytechnical instruction. In these circumstances, it had failed to yield positive educational results, and in 1937 it was cut out of the curriculum.” (S. G. Shawvalenko (ed.) Polytechnical Education in the USSR, UNESCO, 1963, pp. 46-7)

A few days before the voting was to take place in the Central Committee on this issue, Krupskaya wrote a passionate letter to AA Zhdanov:

“No matter how poorly organised labour instruction in the schools may have been, it charged children with enthusiasm and disciplined them, as the young people who attended such labour schools when they were 12 to 15 years old; they recall these times with warm feelings…

And now, when the new Constitution is being adopted, when socialism is victorious in our Land of Soviets when all the prerequisites have been created for carrying out the behests of Marx, Engels and Lenin concerning polytechnical schools such a decision (of abolishing labour instruction in schools) should not be taken. Why make it possible for those who opposed this development to say that schools are for studies and not labour and that the Central Committee has decided to abolish labour instruction in the schools?” (N Krupskaya, On Labour Oriented Education and Instruction, Moscow, pp. 110-111)

The Soviet schools thus gradually abandoned the principle of incorporating productive labour into general elementary education in the form of polytechnics. As Krupskaya and Lunacharsky had argued these seemed to be the cardinal tenets of Marxists and socialists down the ages and its abandoning in favour of bifurcation of vocational and general education appears as a betrayal of those principles. In this some theoretical and practical issues need to be addressed squarely. The idea of communist education was evolved keeping in mind a functioning Communist Society in which the distinction between manual and physical labour as well the very idea of division of labour would have disappeared. To what extent is it viable in a society in transition to industrial socialism from a feudal agrarian society? This society in actual fact needed both technical experts specialising in their subject areas as well as skilled workers at a rapid rate. The polytechnical approach did not seem to deliver either. Indeed what exactly the polytechnical approach would be was not really clarified besides the assertion that it was not to be narrow craft based and should combine both theory and practice of a wide range of modern industrial production. At best of times this meant a couple of hours of work in the field or a workshop or kitchen gardening or woodcraft. This was largely left to the schools to figure out. The solutions worked out turned out to be far from satisfactory as they tended to focus on imparting techniques of definite traditional crafts. Disciplinary knowledge is extremely specialised requiring years of intensive study and likewise industrial work requires years of training in a field. Could there be a watered down version of both which could be taught in schools? Would it be meaningful?

Similarly, with the resources available to an economy emerging from war and destruction and trying to rapidly industrialise, without any prior network of modern mass schools worth the name, was it possible to set up schools equipped with full fledged ‘polytechnical’ workshops and trained technical teachers who could combine ‘theoretical and practical knowledge’? Given the higher value accorded to mental labour and white collar professions, would the workers and peasants be content with minimal academic learning and experience of industrial activity? Most importantly can productive work be defined narrowly as work with machines producing tangible products alone? As we enter a new era of labour and production and struggle against capitalism, these questions require a reassessment and the enormous experience of USSR needs to be reviewed anew.

The problem of streaming and secondary education

Democratic societies based on division of labour and stratification have faced the problem of determining the age and stage for terminating common schooling and commencing streaming to prepare children for specific careers. This is not a simple question of age appropriateness as it is critically linked to the question of ‘social mobility’ or right of all children to access education that will enable them to enter the most remunerative profession. Since most hierarchical societies are likely to have fewer positions of higher remuneration, education will act as a filter to give access to some and deny to the rest who in turn will be forced to opt for less remunerative professions. Education thus has dual function of giving access to mobility and at the same time reinforcing social inequality.

As a policy most democratic education systems seek to prolong the period of universal general education, to such a point when children are well into adulthood and can make their own career decisions. This was the consideration that went into decision of the Commissariat led by Lunacharsky to give ten year general education to all children up to the age of 17, an education that would combine both academic study and exposure to labour process.

However, in a society in which highly valued professions are fewer and low valued professions are for the vast majority, most children from poorer background would prefer to drop out and take up some trade or profession once they are past the 14 year bracket. They would prefer not to wait for another five years of education before they learn that they have to work on a low paid job. At best they would like a brief professional training which will help them to acquire skills which will give them the best option in low paid industrial or other work. Employers too would be happy if they get literate and skilled workers. In other words democratic general education at the secondary level runs the risk of being unpopular both among the masses and the employers. As a consequence the world over it is seen that children from economically weaker social groups tend to drop out of high school and either enter employment directly or take up formal or informal apprenticeship courses.

The USSR as we know was not exactly an egalitarian or classless society. As was repeatedly pointed out it had classes (workers and peasants) and there was the division between mental and manual labour. One may add in hindsight two more categories of gender differences and differences between nationalities and communities. Add to them the children of disenfranchised social classes – the aristocracy, priesthood, bourgeoisie, the upper middle classes and kulaks. These differences may have been less exploitative but marginalisation and exclusion would have been crucial issues.

White collar professions in industry and administration were much sought after, but most workers were content to make their children literate and skilled to earn more than what they themselves earned. The Soviet leadership too had its own requirements. It desperately needed a new generation of leadership in industry, economy, administration, intelligentsia, party and society which was proletarian in character and politically committed to socialism. Time and again the unreliable nature of the old ‘bourgeois’ specialists was demonstrated even though the Soviet government had no alternative but to rely on them till a new generation took its place. Proletarian dictatorship in fact was endangered if the proletariat failed to educate itself and assume leadership positions within a very short time. Given a long history of educational deprivation, this was turning out to be a very challenging task. In addition the rapidly expanding soviet industries and townships needed an ever increasing number of skilled workers.

The first decade after revolution thus was spent on intensive debates over the need for and the nature of secondary education. Indeed, whether it should be under the control of the Commissariat of Education or Industry was also a matter of much debate.

During the Tsarist times, students wishing to enter technical and academic higher education (termed VUZys) had to pass out of the gymnasiums. This effectively was accessible only to the aristocracy, bourgeoisie, and salaried middle class. The working class could only aspire for training in trade schools called ‘technicums’ devoted to specific trades or crafts. The initial reforms towards ‘Unified Labour Schools’ sought to replace the technicums with general secondary school which taught besides other subjects, the basic production system in modern industry (polytechnical education). This was not successful due to the resistance of the industrial employers and also working class parents who favoured brief training in a trade before children took employment. Thus a system parallel to the general education continued. This was the vocational education line with trade apprenticeships and technicum to which children could go after completing seven years of schooling.

The Ukrainian Commissariat tried to solve this problem by converting secondary education into a vocational education after which students could either enter employment as workers or enter higher education institutions and technicums. The Russian Commissariat was opposed to this as it meant streaming children in the age of 14 or 15.

An alternative viewpoint was that of the Komsomols which advocated a seven year schooling to be followed by a few years of work experience before students applied for higher education. Higher education was to be open only to about 10-15% of school graduates and the rest were to acquire proficiency on job. The Komsomols were opposed to the Commissariat’s proposal of three year general secondary education and termed it a return to the system of Tsarist gymnasiums.

A new set of institutions called FZUs or Factory Apprenticeship Schools run at the expense of factories and teaching basic industrial skills along with a minimal general education emerged in 1924. In the rural areas, Peasant Youth Schools linked to state farms were set up parallel to the FZUs. Entrance into both of these was open for graduates of seven year general schooling. In the same year ‘vocational bias’ (profuklon) was sought to be introduced into secondary school education with different streams for clerks, accounting, teaching etc. These were widely welcomed by the Komsomols and Soviets and Trade Unions though they were opposed by the Commissariat as a return to forms of old trade schools and reinforcing caste stratification in education (as white collar employee children went to general schools and worker’s children went to trade schools) and a return to early streaming.

This created a peculiar problem for the secondary general education institutions favoured by the Commissariat. While all children attended primary schools for about four years, in 1927-28, more than 50% of working class children dropped out of schooling to enter work. Only 3% children of workers continued into class IX and X. In contrast most children of white collar employees and middle class continued to complete 7 year schooling and more than 23% completed ten year secondary schooling. Effectively this meant that only the middle classes cared to complete secondary education. This on the one hand reinforced the Komsomol critique about secondary schools being bourgeois, and on the other strengthened the argument of Commissariat against early streaming as it would deprive the working class of the opportunity to enter institutions of higher learning and assume leadership roles in society and industry. The Commissariat was correct in so far as most of the workers’ children who continued their education went to secondary schools rather than FZUs or other trade schools. This meant that those workers who could afford to educate their children valued general education more than narrow trade schools. The capacity of higher education institutions (which had declined during NEP) picked up around 1927 and the concern for vocational emphasis in high school declined correspondingly.

The issue of control over technicums, FZUs and institutions of higher education was a bone of contention between the industry commissariat (which eventually employed the graduates) and the Education Commissariat. After much debate and discussion control was transferred to the industry department in 1929; however, the principle of combination of general education and broad based industrial training was accepted by the industry department too. This had been the argument of the education commissariat as it had been very critical of narrow specialisation which turned out ‘conditioned labourers behaving like efficient cogs in industrial machine’ in place of workers who were masters of production and functioned as the ruling class. (Manifesto on Labour Training of the Education Commissariat 1928)

In 1930 as the Soviet economy was in a position to invest substantially in education, schooling was made free and compulsory for all children above 7 or 8 years of age. Four years of schooling in the rural areas and seven years in urban areas became compulsory for all children. (Seven year schooling for all was made compulsory in 1949.)

As a part of a string of crucial decisions to restructure the Soviet education system, the Central Committee resolved in August 1932 to restore the secondary school (classes VIII to X) as a part of the general schooling system to prepare students entering higher educational institutions whether technical or academic. As students migrated from other technical schools to the general school the FZUs attached to factories were reorganised into “professional schools training semi skilled workers exclusively for production.” Students could enter these after completing seven year schooling. These were to be short term courses and graduates were not eligible to enter institutions of higher education. Instead they were obliged to work in the plant for a specified period of time. In addition there were also Secondary Vocational Training schools equivalent of secondary general education schools but focussing on technical/vocational education (for work in industry, agriculture, hospitals, schools etc). However, before entering institutions of higher education (universities etc) they had to serve in any profession for at least three years.

The system of education which eventually stabilised was four years of universal compulsory primary education followed by three years of middle schooling compulsory in the urban areas and optional in the rural areas (till the post war period); streaming was initiated in the eighth year of schooling. Students keen on higher education continued in the general education schools for another three years (total of ten years); students who wished to enter a profession went to the FZUs for short term apprenticeship courses. Perhaps the vast majority preferred to take up short professional and technical courses for six months to one year before taking up a job. The technical stream also had a higher education component (for complex industries like the railways); these were for three to four years duration.

Thus the Revolutionary education policy achieved its stated aim of instituting ‘single, uninterrupted staircase of unified labour school’ combining both academic and vocational dimensions only partially. Universal access was ensured for a seven year elementary education but streaming took place after this, separating opportunities for low paid vocations for the majority and high paid academic and technical professions for relatively lesser numbers.

However this was not to maintain a social hierarchy based on privilege but to service an egalitarian society in which the majority of workers and peasants wanted a minimal general education and vocational qualification. As we shall see in the following section, concerted campaigns were undertaken in 1927-31 to educate workers and peasants as technical experts and develop a strata of ‘proletarian intelligentsia’ with much success.

Vydvizhenstsy, Rabfaks and Positive Discrimination

Two powerful sociological concerns worked to shape the educational policies and practices during the first decade of revolution. The working people especially the workers and poor peasants looked for opportunities for subsidised or free education which will enable them to take access more remunerative employment as skilled workers or in white collar administrative jobs now being opened up for non-aristocratic and non middle class youth. There was thus an intense pressure to open up higher education to such youth in preference over children of the middle classes. Immediately after the revolution, admission to institutions of higher learning were thrown open to all ending the monopoly of gymnasium graduates. However this did not solve the problem as applicants from labouring backgrounds did not have the requisite academic competence to cope with higher education curriculum. It therefore became necessary to introduce mechanisms for preparing them academically for higher education.

A second consideration related to creating a new intelligentsia drawn from workers and peasants. Given the fact that a large segment of the working class did not have formal education, the Soviet power had to rely on ‘bourgeois’ specialists of the old order. It was fairly clear that unless the cream of the working class acquired requisite education it cannot really consolidate its hold over administration and management of the economy and polity. However, it was not possible to wait for the fresh generation of worker children to finish schooling and higher education. As a result of the convergence of both concerns Rabfaks (Workers Faculties) were set up to give an educational course to adult workers so that they could acquire the requisite competence to enter institutions of higher learning, both technical and academic (called VUZs). It was open to all workers who were literate and could do the four mathematical operations. The Rabfaks were established as departments in the VUZs with the express objective of preparing working class youth for entrance into the VUZs. The Rabfaks gave a two to three year preparation which would be equivalent to secondary education of five years. The Rabfaks became immensely popular and in a short period of time prepared a very large number of highly motivated workers between 16 and 40 years of age to enter institutions of higher education. Admissions were given to those recommended by trade unions, party committees, factory committees and the Soviets. While 14 Rabfaks had been established in 1919, the number grew to 62 in 1925. As the Civil War ended, a large number of veterans joined the Rabfaks in the hope of getting ready for responsible positions. About 50000 students were studying in Rabfaks in 1927-28. Between 1921 to 1928 about 2000 to 7500 students graduated every year from the Rabfaks. They became eligible for entry into VUZs which required another five or six year period of study. As per the regulations formulated in 1923, Rabfak graduates were to get priority in admission into the VUZ; of the remaining positions too priority was to be given to Party and Komsomol nominees, nominees to trade unions, civil war heroes, and only ten percent were open for other fee paying students. While it was initially imagined that the Rabfaks were a temporary arrangement to prepare workers to enter higher education institutions, which would be redundant once the normal schooling system was in place, the Rabfaks’ role dramatically increased during the industrialisation drive. It continued almost up to 1940 and became a model for post revolutionary societies in Eastern Europe, China, Cuba etc. The objective of these measures was to create a community of experts who were drawn from the working class and peasantry and had a basic empathy with the objectives of Soviet power. This was also to prepare the workers and peasants for the role of effective leadership in polity and economy and replace the old guard experts whose sympathies lay with the bourgeoisie and aristocracy. (Drawn from S Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility, and Harley D Balzer, Workers Faculties and the development of science cadres in the first decade of the Soviet power, in Stuart Blume et al, Causes and consequences of Cooperation between Scientists and non-scientific groups, Dordrecht, 1987)

Even though peasants were eligible to enter the rabfaks, they had to go to towns for studying. There was no network of similar schools for peasants. Since it was generally assumed that only the rich among the peasants would send their children to secondary schools, they were charged a high fee. After much protest, special Schools of Peasant Youth were established in 1923 to give secondary education to peasant youth with a special emphasis on small scale farming techniques. The Commissariat authorities like Lunacharsky were uncomfortable with the idea of shifting away from the ideal of a common general schooling for all children and feared that is will reinforce the old ‘caste’ divisions encouraging peasant children to remain in their station in life. This fear turned out to be unfounded as these schools enabled two thirds of their graduates to shift from agriculture to white collar administrative positions or pursue higher studies in the universities or technical institutions. Only one third of the graduates went back to tend their farms.

Early Soviet educational institutions almost till the middle of 1930s saw periodic purging of students from secondary schools and higher education institutions. During several phases admission to students from certain social background was denied. During the early 1920s, “Parents in the wrong social categories like Nepmen, priests, kulaks and former nobles were deprived of the right to vote. The children of such parents were likely to be unable to enter secondary and higher education… Workers’ children conversely had preferential access to higher education…” (Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility pp. 25-6) A major purge of students of such disenfranchised social classes was undertaken in the institutions of higher education (VUZs) in 1924. It was reported that prior to it in 1923-24 about 37% of the students were of such background, while students of working class background constituted only about 15% and peasant students about 24%. The rest, about 25% were children of employees. (ibid p. 97) It was felt that this skewed composition of the higher education institutions was having an undesirable influence on those institutions. The purge was also occasioned by the need to trim the size of these institutions as they had been flooded with too many students a large number of whom did not have the requisite aptitude or competence. However, establishing the social origins of students in a society in flux was very difficult. Mixed parentage, abandoned children, pre-revolutionary landowners reduced to labouring status… all these made categorising children very difficult and self defeating. The Commissariat was not in favour of such penalisation of children. Nevertheless, about 18000 students were purged. In 1924-5 the proportion of children of disenfranchised classes amounted to only 19%. The shift in social composition of students in higher education continued well into 1927-28 due to the policy of admissions based on social origin. We are told that working class percentage of all students rose to 27% in 1927-28; peasant students’ share remained at 24%; white collar worker’s children’s share went up to 40%; and the share of the children of disenfranchised parents dropped to 10%. Clearly working class children and white collar employee’s children took a lion’s share of what the erstwhile privileged classes lost. A part of the reason for the rise of the white collar employees’ children in institutions was the charging of fees and very limited availability of scholarships. (ibid. pp. 107-8) This change in social composition also had an undesired consequence of reduction of the proportion of women students as more women belonging to the erstwhile elite social groups went to higher education than from poorer background. Apparently women were concentrated mainly in pedagogical and medical institutions while men dominated the engineering institutions.

The Shakhty affair (1928) in which the ‘bourgeois’ experts employed in Soviet enterprises appeared to have engaged in activities of sabotage, brought home the need to build a new intelligentsia drawn from the working class and committed to the ideals of socialism. This was also the period of initiation of the Five year Plans and collectivisation of agriculture in which the extensive destructive role of the dispossessed kulaks similarly engaged in sabotage. Stalin reviewing the matter in the April Plenum of the Party (1928) urged for proletarian experts and decried the fact that the existing education being divorced from practical experience turned out unemployable technicians. (April 1928, Stalin, Collected Works XI, Moscow 1954, pp. 57-67)

The Plenum resolved: “the party must bring forward Red proletarian specialists to replace elements from the milieu of bourgeois specialists which are alien to socialist construction. That is one of the basic tasks of economic construction, and, unless it is successfully accomplished, socialist industrialisation cannot be carried out” (cited in Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility, p. 119) At this juncture Stalin called for a drive to create a class of proletarian intelligentsia which would have mastered science and technology. Stalin addressing the Plenum said, “…our cadres are being taught badly in our technical colleges, that our Red experts are not being trained properly… Because they learned from books, they are book-taught experts, they have no practical experience, are divorced from production, and, naturally, prove a failure.” (April 1928, Stalin, Collected Works XI, Moscow 1954, p. 63)

It was not enough to hope for the training of fresh graduates. Stalin placed greater faith in providing experienced workers with education in scientific theory. He wanted experienced workers to be sent to institutions of higher education to take courses which help them to fortify their practical expertise with theoretical foundations. “The industrial and technical intelligentsia of the working class will be recruited not only from those who have had higher education, but also from practical workers in our factories, from the skilled workers, from the working-class cultural forces in the mills, factories and mines. The initiators of emulation, the leaders of shock brigades, those who in practice inspire labour enthusiasm, the organisers of operations in the various sectors of our work of construction – such is the new stratum of the working class that, together with the comrades who have had higher education, must form the core of the intelligentsia of the working class, the core of the administrative staff of our industry.” (June 1931, Stalin, Collected Works XIII, Moscow 1954, pp. 69-70)

He proclaimed in 1931: “our country has entered the phase of development when the working class must create its own industrial and technical intelligentsia, capable of standing up for its own interests in production, as the interests of the ruling class.” (June 1931, Stalin, Collected Works XIII, Moscow 1954, pp. 68-9)

Following these pronouncements from the leadership of the Party, significant repercussions were felt in both higher education institutions and schools. The Shakhty affair prompted another round of purge of ‘socially alien’ elements, this time not only from higher education institutions, but even in primary schools. The commissariat leadership (Lunacharsky and Krupskaya for example) had a difficult time persuading enthusiasts that the Soviet power cannot deprive anyone of the right to elementary education and children cannot choose their parentage. However this could not contain the tide of attack on such children and their expulsion from schools during the heady phase of ‘Cultural Revolution’. It had to wait for a while before the highest authorities like Stalin had to intervene and put an end to it. On the positive side right from 1928 autumn admissions, special efforts were made to induct experienced workers into higher technical institutions. 65% of seats went to workers and special courses were organised to help them to cope with the curriculum. Likewise the seats reserved for Rabfak graduates were drastically increased and new institutions were set up to train more worker candidates. This campaign was called ‘vydvizhenie’ (promotion of workers).

Fitzpatrick has convincingly argued that this campaign was not so much as to create a technically qualified strata for industrialisation, as to create such a strata among workers. At the time of revolution most of the workers had been illiterate and the literacy campaigns had spread literacy among them, but this clearly was not enough to put the working class in leadership position in the economy and administration and the army. If proletarian class leadership was to be consolidated the working class, especially the most experienced and political among them had to acquire formal education. Apparently in 1927 only 4% of worker members of the Party had completed secondary education. In the industrial sector: “At the beginning of 1928, 70.3% of all Communist directors in industry were former workers, and 82.3% of Communist directors had only primary informal education. Among the much smaller group of non-party directors, the percentages were almost reversed; 95.1% of this group were of white-collar origin, and 82.7% had secondary or higher education.” (Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility, p. 183)

From 1928 onwards the Party nominated ‘Thousand’ persons from the Party (about 80% of working class origin) and industry to be sent to engineering, agronomical, pedagogical and military institutions, for special study. This was followed every year with its own ‘Thousand’s. The trade unions too sent their own ‘Thousands’ (mainly non-party workers) to institutions of higher education. The lists were drawn up in factory meetings amidst much enthusiasm. Most of these workers had to undergo six month to one year preparatory courses before they joined the higher education institutions. It was claimed that in a year like 1930 more than 55,000 workers and peasants had been so trained and sent to VUZs and technicums.

In addition to these nominated students, throngs of workers were admitted into the institutions during 1928-31 to fulfil the quota for proletarian admissions. Fitzpatrick estimates that in all total of more than 150,000 persons of working class/communist origins were sent to these institutions under the vydvizhenstsy. During this period it was the experienced adults who went into the educational institutions as they needed at least five years of work experience. To cater to this influx the number of higher education institutions was increased dramatically from 152 in 1929 to 537 in 1930.

Having achieved the objective of creating a working class intelligentsia and technical specialists the policy of preferential admission based on social origins was scrapped by 1935. This paved the way for declaration of complete equality of all citizens of the USSR in the Stalin Constitution irrespective of their background or present status. This was accompanied by a massive expansion of both school and higher education opportunities. Apparently the number of students in middle schools had trebled between 1931 and 1938; students in general secondary education were more than ten times those in 1928. In addition part time training courses for adult workers too expanded considerably. All this nullified the need for any further need for social discrimination in education. Post secondary technicums registered an expansion of eight times over 1928. The higher education institutions (VUZs) had expanded more than five and a half times over 1928.

With this we end the saga of Soviet Educational experiments: it may have lived up only partially to the ideals of ‘communist’ education as visualised by Marx or Owen, but it succeeded in ending centuries of educational deprivation of the poorest and opening up for them paths for personal advancement and assumption of responsible positions in society. In the process it unleashed the creative potentials of millions of people earlier and elsewhere condemned to servitude and exclusion.

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