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

By Peter Konecny | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Politics, Ideology, and
the Studenchestvo

In 1936 Leningrad Communist University student A. Knopova stood up in front of her political discussion group and blurted out the following: "I disagree with Stalin when he says that everything is all right with the peasantry. In several regions the attitude of peasants towards Soviet power has become noticeably worse. Extraordinary measures have been used to repress the middle peasantry. If we continue with these policies, they will lead to a razsmychka [breaking] with the peasantry. Stalin addresses the issue very optimistically. He has followed through with the farm policies but they lack any planning." I As a Communist Party member and a student, Knopova clearly was aware that outspokenness would land her in trouble. Indeed, she was expelled from the Party and reprimanded by the university administration for uttering these remarks. Knopova, and thousands like her, experienced the pressures that accompanied membership in an organization that did not tolerate dissent.

This chapter examines the process by which the Communist Party reined in student activism and established a new framework for student organizations. The Party used its ancillary agency, the Central Bureau of Proletarian Students, to accomplish this goal. Between 1917 and 1926, the crude machinery of Party politics processed the raw material of youthful political and ideological vigour. After the usurpation of independent student councils, independent-minded students became targets for intimidation and repression. During the first five-year plan a new generation of student activists, identifying their goals with socialism, attacked the NEP system and its holdovers, but the tide of radicalism was checked as it began to threaten established channels of authority in higher education. By the mid-I930s, with student organizations firmly under the control of trade-union councils, the studenchestvo had been relegated to the status of a state-sponsored corporate group.

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