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

By Peter Konecny | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
Disorder in the
Community

During the I927/28 academic year, the Leningrad Polytechnical Institute became embroiled in a controversy that escalated into a general inquiry into the state of the studenchestvo. Students at the institute had already read about scandals elsewhere involving sexual misconduct, hooliganism, and other sordid affairs. Now the institute underwent its own public catharsis following the suicide of an energetic and well‐ liked student, D. Gorbachik, in late 1927. The editors of the student newspaper informed readers that over the last months of his life Gorbachik had been spending time in "the wrong company," in a literature group, reading the works of Dostoevsky, Esenin, and other "fatalistic" writers. Gorbachik gradually began to feel that his life had no purpose or direction.I

Questions arising from the Gorbachik affair presaged a controversy involving several chemistry students who had formed an organization known as the Club for Madmen. The sole purpose of the club, according to its founder, a Komsomolite by the name of Iurov, was "to do everything without a purpose." The duties of each member were as follows: "He must swear to do things that have no purpose and to always work towards the prosperity and expansion of the club. Those entering our club must come in wearing breeches, sleeves rolled up and shirt turned backwards, coat inside out; they must speak in the vernacular, etc." Club members sponsored cigar-smoking contests, Tai-Chi demonstrations, philistine talks about esoteric subjects, and even beauty contests with women at the institute as contestants. 2 The club's activities created a commotion in February 1928, when extracts from one of Iurov's letters appeared in the institute's newspaper. In a letter to his friend Dmitrii, Iurov despaired over the absence of community at the institute: "Now ... looking at our community life, evaluating past and present accomplishments, I have come to the conclusion that there is

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