First School Detachment ‘Down with Smoking’
A violet exercise book. On it are paper stickers, written in a careful child’s hand, saying ‘Do not poison the air we breathe.’ ‘We are fighting for fresh air – the foundation of health.’ ‘We, the new generation, forbid smoking at school and at home’ ‘Do not set us a foolish example by smoking’ ‘A smoker is an oxygen thief and a friend of tuberculosis’.
This detachment has 28 members. There are 21 girls and 7 boys. We present some pages from their latest ‘report’.
‘9th April 1928, Work at Moszdrav*. 7 members worked. They spread out to visit the rooms. One of them noticed that on the 5th. floor there was no ‘smoking forbidden’ sign. A sign was demanded The request was fulfilled. On the 3rd. floor a Moszdrav employee displayed obstinate resistance, and everyone had to visit him in turn. The typists needed frequent reminding. The work was done happily and with considerable interest. The grown-ups offered complete obedience to the proposals.
10th. April 1928, same work. A very long explanatory discussion was had with a colleague in room 9 on the 5th. floor, who gave his age (60 years) and his long period of smoking (40 years) as a reason for not giving it up and who declared that children should obey adults. I noted: ‘We, the little ones, are obliged to teach the grown-ups and if you cannot give up smoking on your own you have to go to be cured. At least it’s not difficult to go to the wash room and smoke there’.
There are constant reminders to typists, cunningly hiding cigarettes in their sleeves. Through substantial reminding they were unhappily thrown away. The work was lively.
13th. April, Moszdrav. Worked from 10 to 1 o’clock. It was often necessary to reprimand typists for hiding cigarettes behind their ears. One female colleague did not want to leave the workroom. After much asking, her name was written down. Questions were asked about warrants.
From the ‘protocols’ of the children’s meetings we discover that they discuss their enquiries, that they promise neither to drink nor smoke, that they authorise the fight to be taken home and into school, that they themselves write posters for home and for school: ‘Everyone must be disciplined and polite’, ‘It is decreed that comrades who drink should be supervised, as wine is very harmful’ Excluded from the group are those unable to resist the temptation and who are ill-disciplined – and they exist!
These children came to a meeting of the organisers of the Society for the Fight against Alcoholism, greeted their elders and asked them to give up drinking and smoking. Then they surrounded comrade Bukharin and made him write down his promise in their violet exercise book.
A good younger generation is growing up. The adults have to learn from the little ones.
*Moszdrav – Moscow Health Department
Notes on this piece:
This delightfully sinister article is a premonition of the coming period when children were encouraged to denounce their parents, friends and teachers for anti-Soviet behaviour.
Conducting an anti-smoking campaign is a positive activity, but the style of this article gives it a deeply ominous form. The language used is militaristic and brutal, even though it is describing the activity of school children : ‘……displayed obstinate resistance…’ ‘ The grown-ups offered complete obedience to the proposals.’ ‘After much asking, her name was written down. Questions were asked about warrants’. It reads like a report from a civil war battle group.
Children denouncing their parents
The most famous case of this odious practice was that of Pavel Morozov, who went to the police to report that his father had been “forging documents and selling them to the bandits and enemies of the Soviet State”. The father was removed to a labour camp and subsequently shot. Pavel was murdered by members of his father’s family, who in turn were all shot. This story (how much is true is a mystery) ensured that Pavel Morozov became a Soviet ‘martyr’ and a cult grew up around his name. Books, films, operas and stories were written about him, depicting him as a selfless and shining example of socialist morality. His tiny village school was turned into a shrine and Soviet school children were bussed in to pay homage. Almost every detail of the Soviet account of his life has been challenged by writers since the 1980s.
N.I. Bukharin (1888-1938)
Nikolay I. Bukharin (1888-1938), referred as an authority in the article, was active in the Bolshevik party from 1906 and became highly respected as an intellectual and theorist. He was editor of the newspaper Pravda for over ten years and a member of the politburo of the USSR. Lenin described him as ‘…..not only a most valuable and major theorist of the Party; he is also rightly considered the favourite of the whole Party, but his theoretical views can be classified as fully Marxist only with great reserve, for there is something scholastic about him (he has never made a study of the dialectics, and, I think, never fully understood it).’ Clearly Lenin had no reservations about Bukharin’s talents, but was more worried for what purpose he might use them.
In 1928, the year of publication of this article, Bukharin was at the height of his powers and popularity and speaking strongly against Stalin’s desire to force collectivisation onto the peasants of the USSR. Bukharin wanted to base economic development on a rich peasantry capable of feeding the nation and producing surplus grain to export for foreign currency. Stalin was intent on taking all agriculture into state control and smashing the peasantry as a class. The two fell out and Bukharin was out-maneuvered by Stalin. He was removed from the politburo in 1929, discredited, and then invited back into the inner circles of Stalin’s gang in 1934. Bukharin was doubtless a firm critic of Stalin’s policies, but he did this within the frameworks of legal structures and underestimated Stalin’s maniacal character in it’s ability and desire to harm him. He was arrested in 1937 and was forced to write false confessions. In an appaling sham of a trial he showed himself able to retain his lucidity of mind and speech. He wrote to Stalin, begging that if he were found guilty of the alleged crimes, he should be allowed to drink poison in his prison cell rather than suffer the humiliation of shooting. He was indeed found guilty. Bukharin was shot through the back of the head at Kommunarka on 15th March 1938.
His life was taken by the instruments – state-sponsored intrusion, unquestioning loyalty, reporting and suspicion – he had once promoted himself. Oppression grew from harassment by school children to self-consuming state terror in ten short years.
Bukharin was probably taken after arrest to this location in Moscow. The address is Varsonofevsky per. 9. The building at the end of the street in the photo and on the left is the Lubyanka, HQ of the NKVD, the KGB and now the FSB.