Builders and Deserters: Students, State, and Community in Leningrad, 1917-1941

By Peter Konecny | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Shaping the Community

By 1929, when the New Economic Policy had been abandoned in favour of the maniacally ambitious first five-year plan, it was clear that many of the promises offered by the revolution had not been fulfilled. Poor living standards, unstructured academic programs, bureaucracy, and the mere facade of a socialist community had left many students cynical and embittered. Looking back, a student by the name of Donskoi, a resident of the Leningrad Agricultural Institute's main dormitory, felt that the state had failed on many fronts. His remarks at a general discussion convened on the problems of everyday life (byt) resonated among students throughout the I920s. Although access to higher education had been improved, the living situation remained unsatisfactory and officials continued to ignore students' requests. Worse still, there remained little sense of community. "We don't only lack friendship but also simple comradeliness ... People live for three or four years in the same room but hardly ever get to know each another. Rarely do they use the first name and patronymic of a comrade." Others chimed in, noting that senior students rarely helped newcomers and that the reading material they were forced to work with was terribly unsatisfactory. I

These complaints were symptomatic of the widespread problems in the formative period for Soviet higher education. In the spring and summer of 1921, students demobilized from military service gradually filtered back into Petrograd to resume their academic training. Joining others who had struggled through three years of hardship, the young war veterans aspired to be part of an emerging socialist student community in higher education. However, the higher-education institutions much like the state institutions, faced many problems as they desperately tried to adjust to endless structural realignments and contradictory decrees. The struggle for the Party leadership during the NEP

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