I once met someone who had grown up in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s. I was intrigued by the idea of growing up in the communist east, and asked him about his time in the Pioneers. This youth organisation, akin to Scouts but with a distinctly Marxist-Leninist ideological tinge, boasted mass membership across the Warsaw pact. The children, with bright red neck ties, would take part in rallies, camps and ideological teachings, the attempted indoctrination of the next generation.
In this hidden gem of a book Catriona Kelly uncovers the story of one of the Pioneer's most famous heroes. This is the story of Pavlik Morozov, a patriotic and ideologically faithful young man whose story was told to serve as example to all Russia's children. Pavlik was known across the USSR as the boy who had told on his father when he undermined attempts to collectivise the village. In revenge he was killed by the kulaks, richer peasants who resented Soviet power.
Kelly demonstrates how Soviet propaganda worked in different ages, beginning with the creation of the Pavlik myth. What had in reality been a case of inter-familial violence, a simple peasant domestic in a rough and unyielding Ural village was transformed into an example of 'wrecking' by the rich peasants who would do anything to prevent the 'glorious' transformation of the countryside along Soviet lines.
This book is a thoroughly researched and passionate work. With Pavlik's untimely demise as its central concern, the book manages to make astute and informative observations about the Soviet state. The way the Pavlik myth evolves and morphs over time is illustrative of the changes in the county throughout the post-war time.
Kelly has clearly mastered the period, and uses her command of Stalinist history to place the Pavlik myth in its proper context, and reveals a fascinating side of the Soviet system.
Anyone interested in Soviet or communist history, or with a passion for propaganda and methods of state manipulation will appreciate this quirky but essential slice of Russian history. More broadly anyone who enjoys readable, well written history will enjoy this simply told but extensively researched book.
on 15 October 2007
This is a fascinating work of scholarship which gives a detailed cultural analysis of the Pavlik Morozov legend - the story of the Soviet boy hero who supposedly denounced his kulak father to the authorities, thereby demonstrating that loyalty to the state took precedence over family reklationships.
Analysing the archival evidence and the Soviet press, Kelly manages to unpick the truth in the story from those elements that were fabiracted by the authorities to use the myth for propaganda purposes. She also shows how the myth of Pavlik Morozov changed in meaning over time.
My only reservation about this book is its bias towards literary sources. There is little here about the Pavlik Morozovs who existed in real life. But otherwise this is a fine book.