Stalinism in Soviet Schools and the Pupils' Case

News | Soviet Studies | Publications | Article 11 October 2019

After Stalin became the leader of the Soviet Union, speedy reforms of the Soviet schools and educational system began. Since the day of its foundation, USSR had been endeavoring to create a centralized educational system which would be based on the Marxist principles and would bring up the new Soviet citizens according to the Communist ideals. During Stalin’s rule, these processes achieved a whole new level and similarly to the other spheres, became a subject to totalitarian control.

 

By the end of 1920, the policy of korenizatsiia[1] was announced, which meant the purposeful development of local, non-Russian ethnic identities. However, after 1932-1933 years, the Communist Party rejected this policy and later even repressed its active adherents. Since then, korenizatsiia has changed into the policy of Russification based on the principle “Friendship of the peoples” which also affected the educational process. This meant that, on the one hand, the Soviet authority supported the rise of ethno-nationalist sentiments among the titular nations[2] of the Soviet republics at the cost of suppressing the ethnic minorities while, on the other hand, it observed Russian nationalism and culture as a superior and predominant.[3] At the Soviet schools, for the purpose of bringing up the Soviet patriots, standardized curriculums and textbooks were introduced, and the rules of behavior were strictly defined according to these principles. In many cases, Stalin was personally involved in creating and editing of the textbooks and curriculums. As a result, a Soviet school turned into a politicized institution which actively propagated Stalinism.[4]

 

Stalinist terror and mass control were fully extended to schools as well. Central Committee, together with the People’s Commissariat for Education, actively monitored the ongoing processes, situation, discipline or the other types of violations of established rules at schools. As a rule, if a student did not respond to the requirements of the system, the responsibility was imposed on teachers or parents.[5] The internal documents of the Special Sector of the Central Committee dated to November-December 1937 reveal how the policy of the 1930s influenced the Georgian schools and how the total control was extended to students, their parents and teachers.

 

In the archival documents, several cases are mentioned when “anti-Soviet, counter-revolutionary sentiments” were revealed among the students of the Tbilisi schools. In one of such cases, on 19 November 1937, the students of the 14th School of Tbilisi, Andria Buachidze (a son of repressed “enemy of the people”), Radion Korkia, Sikinchilashvili (a son of Artem Sikinchilashvili, repressed “enemy of the people”, former rector of Medical Institute), Kvirkvelia, Akhvlediani (also a son of repressed “enemy of the people”, former worker at Khlebtorg (Bakery Trade)) and Chavchanidze decided to hold the elections of the “highest organ” and stage the cabinet of ministers. As indicated in the documents, following Korkia’s recommendation, they used the model of English elections for their project not to be similar to the USSR voting system. Based on their project, the elections were to be held on 22 November of the same year and the two chambers were to be established: the first one – the Chamber of “Fighters” in which “troublemaker” students would be enrolled and the second one – the Chamber of “Pure-Blooded” which would encompass the students who excelled in their studies. A member of the chamber could be a student who would receive at least five votes. Two bulletins were allotted to each elector. Also, the project included the election of the ministers of Fitness and Sport, Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Class Hospitality and Organization of Issues. Notably, the students had chosen an emblem and the other symbols. According to their protocol, any work should have been conducted in the Georgian language, which turned out to be the indication of “ant-Soviet, counter-revolutionary” sentiments for the authority. For this, in the presented documents, the links of the teachers and the parents of the same school to the Communist party, the activities of their family members, a number of repressed individuals among them (for instance, in the second grade, parents of 9 students out of 33 were repressed, in the eighth grade – parents of 6 out of 40, in the fifth grade – parents of 8 out of 80. In total, parents of 46 students out of 600 were repressed at this school) and the students’ involvement in Komsomol were studied in details. The fact that the husbands or close relatives of the seven teachers were repressed and these teachers were working with the students of the first and second grade was also emphasized.[6]

 


The MIA Archive of Georgia, Fond N14, Inventory N11, Box N17, Item N148

 

The parents of the three of the students were put on trial and sentenced to death within the frame of Stalin’s lists. These lists signed by Stalin were sent to the local People’s Commissariat of the Internal Affairs where a pseudo trial was held. On trial, a verdict was issued by a special three person committees, so-called troika which often made a decision in a few minutes. The father of Sikinchilashvili, Artem Sikinchilashvili was a doctor at the Venerology institute and lived on 28 Engels Street (Lado Asatiani Street today) in Tbilisi. It is indicated in the documents that he served at the Mensheviks’ army and before that was arrested for stealing cocaine from the store of the protected fund.[7]

 

The father of Andria Buachidze, Andria Buachidze (son of Grigol Buachidze) was the director of the Institute of Agricultural Institute and the i at the Agricultural department. He was accused of organizing counter-revolutionary, undermining and recruiting activities. According to the minutes of the session, Buachidze hindered the process of preparing highly qualified cadres, the organization of students’ teaching practice, scientific-research activities among professors and the provision of students with stabile teaching programs, plans and textbooks. He recruited three other people into a counter-revolutionary organization.[8]   

 


Minutes of the NKVD Special Troika on the execution of Andria Buachidze
The document is preserved at the MIA Archive of Georgia

 

The father of Akhvlediani, Giorgi Akhvlediani (son of Konstantine Akhvlediani) was a noble, member of the former Social Democratic Party (of Mensheviks) and the head of Tbilisi Bakery Trade. In his bill of indictment, it is indicated that he “was an active member of a right-wing organization into which he was recruited by the terrorist Kighuradze for carrying out a terrorist act against the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia, comrade Beria. As ordered by the right-wing, counter-revolutionary organizational center, during the expected war, he should have poisoned water in Natakhtari water supply. He was preparing for this and recruited two other people”.[9]

 


Minutes of the NKVD Special Troika on the execution of Giorgi Akhvlediani
The document is preserved at the MIA Archive of Georgia


 


The act of execution of Giorgi Akhvlediani
The document is preserved at the MIA Archive of Georgia


 


Giorgi Akhvlediani

Photo from the family archive

 

In all of the three cases, in the documents about the violations revealed at schools, it is mentioned that the students’ fathers were in custody at that moment. However, according to the materials, it becomes evident that Sikichilashvili and Akhvlediani had already been shot and neither their family members nor the school has the information about that. This fact is not surprising because sometimes the families were informed about the death of their family member only after a few years and, as a rule, some disease was said to be the cause of their death. For instance, the family of Andria Buachidze was informed about his death only on 26 December 1942 and cause of death was defined as Aortic sclerosis.

 

After the death of Stalin, in 1957, the cases of Sikinchilashvili and Buachidze were re-examined by the Military Collegiate of the Supreme Court of USSR which cancelled their verdict for an absence of the signs of crime.

 

As for the pupils’ case, the Central Committee has examined the behavior of the other students of the 14th school of Tbilisi in the past. It is indicated in the document that the student Shengelia called his classmate a “Fascist” after which he painted a Fascist symbol on his bag and blackboard. Additionally, it is emphasized that the tutor of the class was Kaptavadze whose husband had been resettled as “an enemy of the people”. Also, based on the student Guram Kviladze’s testimony, it is mentioned that Buachidze praised Hitler and said that he read about him in his father’s library. Besides, Buachidze is accused of tearing down Nikolai Ezhov’s portrait at Akhvlediani’s house. In conversation with pioneer Kobulov, Buachidze heard that Kobulov’s mother was a member of the party while his father was not affiliated to it and advised him his father not to enroll in the party. Based on the all of the above-said, the Central Committee concludes that “due to the mixed collective of the teachers and in some classes, a high concentration of the children of those individuals who have been equated with the enemies of the people, the political-educational work has been obviously carried out insufficiently at the school”.[10]

 

Besides the 14th school of Tbilisi, the documents cover the schools of Kirov district of Tbilisi. It is indicated about the 43rd school that, while buying a badge with Stalin’s portrait, student Popov asked: “Paying 2 rubles for such rubbish?!” The student of the same school, Alishbaia is accused of writing on the elections placard: “Everybody vote for Vovka!” It is also said about the 9th-grade student, Shostak that after seeing a portrait of Nikoloz Baratashvili (famous Georgian poet), he exclaimed: “What an idiot face”. Regarding the 97th school, it is indicated that 8th-grade student, the citizen of Iran, Mir-Fattakh Agha Zade made Trotskist inscriptions in the lavatory. At several schools, the students of lower grades painted Fascist emblems on the blackboard, notebooks and desks. About the students of the 28th school, the information is provided that they planned to cross the border illegally believing that there were better living conditions abroad. In this group, among others, were the two sons of a famous Georgian composer, Dimitri Arakishvili and according to the documents, the meetings were held at their place.

 


Dimitri Arakishvili with his family. The document is about the younger sons of the composer, Shota and George Arakishvili. Photo from the family archive

 

In the internal documents of the Central Committee, after the “counter-revolutionary sentiments’, the disciplinary misdemeanors (for instance, it is mentioned that the student of the 97th school appeared drunk at the lessons) and crimes (several students are accused of theft) are considered thoroughly. For describing all of the above-mentioned violations, a statistical analysis is provided in the materials, describing how many parents of the students were repressed and observing the behavior of such children. It is indicated that, as a rule, “the children of the repressed individuals study well for what their tutors are distracted from such important issues as their political-moral conditions”.[11]

 

Due to the fact that usually the teachers and parents were responsible for the pupils’ “misbehavior”, statistical data is examined on how many teachers’ family members were repressed at those schools, how many teachers were the members of the Communist Party and also several cases are provided when the teachers expressed “anti-Soviet, counter-revolutionary” sentiments. For example, it is mentioned that one of the teachers told students that the work “Problems of Leninism” was written not by Stalin but by Bukharin and Zinoviev. Also, not only the political views and behavior of the directors of the same schools but their relations with the repressed individuals are discussed in the documents.

 

The Central Committee has not missed out the work of Komsomol (The All-Union Leninist Young Communist League) in the above-mentioned schools. The number of Komsomols is discussed in the provided materials, and it is emphasized that besides their low numbers, it is important that none of them excels in their studies and that the pioneers study worse than the other students. For this, the Komsomol is accused of insufficient work in particular schools. Finally, the Central Committee concludes that the above-mentioned misdemeanors are the result of inappropriate party activity at particular schools and the lack of control over them.[12]

 


The MIA Archive of Georgia, Fond N14, Inventory N11, Box N15, Item N134
 

The presented archival documents reveal the scale of Stalinist terror and mass control in 1937-1938. The Communist Party did not even miss out such minor events as an inscription incompatible with the communist ideals made by a student of lower grades on the blackboard. Within the frame of the Stalinist educational reforms, encompassing the maximal centralization of the system and its alignment with the state policy, everything that was incompatible with Stalinism should have been eradicated. Due to the policy of korenizatsiia and the fact that not much time had passed after losing Georgia’s independence, the sentiments of national independence were still prevalent in the society.[13] The fact that according to the protocol of the “Cabinet of Ministers” created by the students of 14th school, all the procedures should have been carried out in Georgian can be considered as a revelation of these sentiments.  In Stalin’s period, this fact alarmed the Central Committee because it was incompatible with the course of Russification. Additionally, the Central Committee did not miss out the negative remark of a pupil about the portrait of Nikoloz Baratashvili because, within the scope of Stalin’s “Friendship of the Peoples” campaign, a special attention was paid to the issue of titular ethnicities, their culture was propagated throughout USSR, and all of them were linked to Russia as a binding center.[14] This, on the one hand, fostered ethno-nationalist sentiments among the titular ethnicities while, on the other hand, it caused discontent among the ethnic minorities. One kind of manifestation of this policy was the popularization of the national poets – Pushkin, Shevchenko, Rustaveli and others were being translated into various languages. Arguably, this was the reason why the Central Committee considered the offence of Nikoloz Baratashvili as a severe violation. As a result, all of these crystalized into the propagation of Stalinism among pupils and their total control together with their parents. The presented documents prove that the life of students as well as their teachers and the other members of the society was under a constant observation by the totalitarian regime and even minor misdemeanors were not left neglected. Special attention was paid to the children of the repressed individuals: on the one hand, their success and excellence in studies were emphasized while on the other hand, the unsatisfying attendance of Komsomols was mentioned several times. The deeply engraved hatred not only toward the innocent repressed citizens but toward their underage children as well attests the scale of the wickedness of Stalin’s terror.

 

 

[1] George Liber, ‘Korenizatsiia: Restructuring Soviet Nationality Policy in the 1920s’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 14, 1991, 1, pp. 15-23.

[2] Titular nations meant dominant ethnic groups in particular Soviet republics: Georgians in Georgia, Armenians in Armenia, etc.

[3] Terry Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001.

[4] David Brandenberger, National Bolshevism: Stalinist Mass Culture and the Formation of Modern Russian National Identity, Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 2002.

[5] Larry Eugene Holmes, ‘School and Schooling under Stalin’ in Educational Reform in Post-Soviet Russia: Legacies and Prospects, Psychology Press, 2005, pp. 56-101.

[6] MIA Archive of Georgia, fond N14, opis’ N11, box N17, case N148; MIA Archive of Georgia, fund N14, opis’ N11, box N19, case N174.

[7] Source: Stalin’s Lists - http://www.nplg.gov.ge/gwdict/index.php?a=term&d=26&t=3970

[8] Source: Stalin’s Lists - http://www.nplg.gov.ge/gwdict/index.php?a=term&d=26&t=444

[9] Source: Stalin’s Lists - http://www.nplg.gov.ge/gwdict/index.php?a=term&d=26&t=8165

[10]MIA Archive of Georgia, fund N14, opis’ N11, box N15, case N134.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] In 1921, the Bolsheviks occupied the First Republic of Georgia while the development of Georgian nationalism had already begun under the Russian Empire and reached its final stage under the First Republic.

[14] The so-called “Weeks of National Culture” held in Moscow since 1936 is the most explicit example of this. Within the frame of these “weeks” the delegations from the Soviet republics visited Moscow and the days of their culture were organized. The Georgian delegation went to Moscow in 1937 and held the presentation of Georgian literature, music, dance and the other spheres of art with the great pomp. At this ceremony, it was the first time when the epithets toward Georgia such as “Sunny Georgia” were voiced officially. The same year, Ivane Javakhishvili (prominent Georgian historian) was requested to organize the 740th anniversary of the Georgian epic poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” at the National Museum while Shalva Nutsubidze (Georgian philosopher and translator) was ordered to translate the same poem in Russian. It was not a mere coincidence that these “Weeks of National Culture” were being held in Moscow inasmuch as Russia was considered as a center of the cultures of the Soviet Republics and a “leading force” which should have guided them toward building the Communism. For additional information, see: Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire; Gerhard Simon, Nationalism and Policy toward the Nationalities in the Soviet Union, Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press, 1991, pp. 135-172.

 

Bibliography:

Brandenberger, D., National Bolshevism: Stalinist Mass Culture and the Formation of

Modern Russian National Identity, Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Holmes, L. E., ‘School and Schooling under Stalin’ in Educational Reform in Post-Soviet Russia: Legacies and Prospects, Psychology Press, 2005, pp. 56-101.

Liber, G., ‘Korenizatsiia: Restructuring Soviet Nationality Policy in the 1920s’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 14, 1991, 1, pp. 15-23.

Martin, T., The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union,

1923-1939, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001.

MIA Archive of Georgia, fund N14, opis’ N11, box N15, case N134.

MIA Archive of Georgia, fond N14, opis’ N11, box N17, case N148.

MIA Archive of Georgia, fund N14, opis’ N11, box N19, case N174.

Simon, G., Nationalism and Policy Toward the Nationalities in the Soviet Union, Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press, 1991, pp. 135-172.

Stalin’s Lists, http://www.nplg.gov.ge/gwdict/index.php?a=list&d=26&t=dict&w1=%E1%83%90

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