Knowledge is Power
Our collection is wide-ranging. Most of the magazines are well-written and carefully researched. It is therefore always interesting to come across something full of utter nonsense. This is one such.
The collection is evidence of the rapid decline in the quality of the definition of ‘truth’ from informative, fact-based publications such as Bekhterev’s ‘Knowledge Bulletin’ (1927-8) to this level of publication, a mere four years later.
This magazine was founded in 1926 and covered a wide variety of subjects. As time passed, it re-aligned itself with prevailing dictates and turned into a propaganda publication, praising the technical and scientific achievements of the USSR and thus attempting to confirm the correctness of its Leader’s policies. The contents, look and feel of the magazine were influenced by the priorities of the day. For the editors and journalists, those imperatives were progressively tending towards ‘avoiding being murdered by my own government’.
The dramatic ascent of the ‘Stratostat’ – a high-altitude balloon – is captured by the famous Soviet artist, Nikolai Aleksandrovich Sokolov. His composition shows the USSR in an heroic light. It is pushing the boundaries of technology and human endeavour to greater extents. The USSR is the country where extraordinary people are being formed – the ‘new men’.
Sokolov was a member of the ‘Kukriniksi’ group of artists. The other members were M. V. Kupryanov and P. N. Krilov – the name of the group – a portmanteau word made from syllables found in the three surnames. All were students at VKhUTEMAS and united to contribute cartoons and illustrations to the ‘wall newspaper’ (a bulletin board) of that institution. They went on become almost ‘state cartoonists’, regularly appearing in Pravda and other highly official organs of Government communication. Most of the cartoons they produced were not funny at all. However, the quality of the humour was hardly their fault – they did what they were told – and the artwork was always of the highest quality.
The study of the atmosphere at high altitudes was an attractive area for Soviet scientists. It was an opportunity to display the national virilty of the USSR. The Swiss scientist, Auguste Piccard, was carrying out similar research in his country, and the USSR decided to take it upon itself to go higher than Piccard in a strange, gas-filled, ‘space race’.
The drawing, by the artist N. M. Avvakumov, captures the moment of lift-off.
The verses , by V. Gusev, read:
They flew higher than the limits of the wind
The planetary sphere, a distant beacon
And to nineteen kilometers high
The roof of our earth was raised
On the next page, there is a bizarre commentary:
- ”The stratostat is rising!” – cried the readers, when they saw the drawing by the artist Avvakumov on the first page. Comrade Avvakumov saw the sun rise on the 30th. of September over the Moscow aerodrome, but he drew for us, how, at exactly 08:40 the stratostat ‘USSR’ started to rise towards the sun. Five minutes later, radio enthusiasts heard the first news from the gondola:
‘This is ‘Mars’…
Pressing our ears to the headphones, we listened
- 09:25 – Hello! This is ‘Mars’. Height is 17200m.
Already higher than Piccard. The earth sends greetings. We listen more…..
The articles goes on to report of a series of events that glorify Soviet life:
A column of cars, ‘all made in our factories, in an 87-day journey, has just completed 9500 km. – that is a lot‘
Another wonderful victory on the list is the construction of the White Sea – Baltic Canal, ‘built in 19 months by tens of thousands of former thieves, wreckers and murderers. 19 months of work for the country turned these ‘former people’ into real builders of socialism.’
Possibly most strangely of all, it was decided to raise a sunken ice breaker that had been on the bottom of the White sea for 17 years. The operation was successful, although it would have probably been easier and cheaper to lower the White Sea rather than raise the ship……
The conquest of high mountains was also a very suitable way to demonstrate the national importance:
This year a Soviet expedition to the Pamir mountains and filled in a former white spot on the map. Hitherto undiscovered ravines, valleys, glaciers, snow-capped peaks and cliff-surrounded mountain summits, passes and ridges have been named after Kaganovich, Clara Zetkin, Krupskaya, Enukidze and Yagoda. The expedition discovered the Stalin peak, the highest point of the USSR at 7660m
Further ‘victories’ written about involved someone jumping with a parachute from 7200m who (allegedly) was in freefall until only 150m from the earth, when he opened his parachute – and survived*, establishing a new world record.
A note from QED: *This is clearly impossible. Given that the person weighed about 72kg, with average air resistance of 0.24 kg/m and gravitational acceleration of 9.8 ms² with a freefall distance of 7050m, he would have been travelling at a speed of about 54m per second, and a parachute deployment height of 150m would have allowed him about 3 seconds to slow down from 195km/h to about 20km/h. If such a fast-unfolding, light-weight, resilient and absolutely vast parachute was indeed available in the 1930s, , (they certainly are not now) the deceleration force would pull the man’s body to pieces.
The piece ends:
”Soon you too, children, our readers, will fly to the stratosphere, build factories, power stations, canals, cross deserts, climb mountain peaks, take ships the the Arctic, raise sunken ships from the bottom of the sea and make record parachute jumps.
Whilst you are studying; work, and master knowledge, to be ready for new victories.”
Would anyone have been greatly inspired by the prediction that they would be ‘building canals’, given the work experience of those previously favoured for such employment, as already detailed in the article?