Russian Literacy Campaigns, 1861–1939

  • Ben Eklof


Irony, no stranger to history, informs the story of Russian national literacy. This story begins with the Emancipation of the serfs in 1861, with the hopes born in the period of Great Reforms, and the village schools built on these hopes. The story continues with elite intervention in the 1890s, prompted both by the faith that education was the key to progress and by the fear of “wild” popular literacy. It ends with widespread popular resistance in the thirties to a school system forcibly imposed by an authoritarian, interventionist regime bent upon destroying all vestiges of popular autonomy. A campaign that began in the largely self-governing peasant commune ended with the imposition of a ruthlessly centralized political order and the very destruction of that commune, the hearth of traditional Russian popular culture.


Social Mobility Short History Cultural Revolution Soviet System Literacy Campaign 
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  1. 1.
    [I have relied where possible on English-language sources, or translations of Russian-language works—Author] On the bias toward higher education in Tsarist and Soviet policy, see Michael Kaser, “Education in Tsarist and Soviet Development,” in C. Abramsky, ed., Essays in honor of E. H. Carr (London, 1974), pp. 229-254. The best English-language history of Russian education remains Thomas Darlington, Education in Russia (Great Britain: Board of Education. Special Reports on Education. Number 23. London, 1909). For a more recent brief study see James C. McClelland, Autocrats and Academics: Education, Society and Culture in Tsarist Russia (Chicago, 1979). For a fuller listing of sources, see the bibliography in Ben Eklof, Russian Peasant Schools: A Social and Cultural History, 1861-1914 (Berkeley, Ca., 1986).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    On this, see John Bushneil, “Peasants in Uniform: The Tsarist Army as a Peasant Society,” Journal of Social History, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Winter 1980), pp. 565–566, 573. Darlington, Education in Russia, p. 192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    For more detail, see my Russian Peasant Schools, chapter 5 (“Control of the Schools”). A teacher discussed the use of the exit option to control curriculum in N. Bratchikov, “Uchebno-vospitatelnaia chast v nachalnoi shkole,” Russkaia shkola, vol. 20, no. 1 (Jan. 1909), p. 115.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    N. V. Chekhov, Tipy russkoi shkoly v ikh istoricheskom razvitii (Moscow, 1923), p. 35. For the argument on formalization and peasant initiative, see Ben Eklof, “Peasant Sloth Reconsidered: Strategies of Education and Learning in Rural Russia before the Revolution,” Journal of Social History, Vol. 14, no. 3 (Fall, 1981), pp. 355–385, and by the same author, “The Myth of the Zemstvo School: The Sources of the Expansion of Rural Education in Imperial Russia: 1864-1914,” History of Education Quarterly (Winter, 1984), pp. 561-184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 9.
    A. I. Piskunov, et al., Ocherki ütorii shkol i pedagogicheskoi mysli narodov SSSR (Moscow, 1975), p. 518; A. Chekini, “Nachalnoe narodnoe obrazovanie, Novyi entsiklopedicheskii slovar Brokgausa-Efrona, Vol. 28, pp. i-iv.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    Exceptions can be noted: Paul Ignatiev, et al., Russian Schools and Universities in the World War (New Haven, Conn., 1929); Nicholas Timasheff, The Great Retreat (New York, 1946); Allen Sinel, The Classroom and the Chancellery (Cambridge, Mass., 1973), esp. pp. 214-252; and the works by Lapidus, Fitzpatrick, and Kenez, cited below. In private, Soviet historians will often concede that the notion of Tsarist educational failure is overdrawn. For one example, see A. I. Piskunov and E. D. Dneprov, “A Short History of the Soviet School and Soviet Pedagogy over Sixty Years,” Soviet Education, Vol. 20, no. 4-5 (Feb.-March, 1978), pp. 9–10.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    A. G. Rashin, “Gramotnost i narodnoe obrazovanie v Rossii v XIX i nachale XX vekakh,” Istoricheskie zapüki, no. 37 (1951), p. 48.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    A. G. Rashin, “Gramotnost i narodnoe obrazovanie v Rossii v XIX i nachale XX vekakh,” Istoricheskie zapüki, no. 37 (1951), p. 48.Google Scholar
  9. 24.
    Peter Kenez, “Liquidating Illiteracy in Revolutionary Russia,” Russian History, Vol. 9, Pts. 2-3 (1982), p. 173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 25.
    Peter Kenez, “Liquidating Illiteracy in Revolutionary Russia,” Russian History, Vol. 9, Pts. 2-3 (1982), p. 173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 51.
    Larry Holmes, “Soviet Schoolteachers and Moscow: Educational Policy and Classroom Practice, 1921-1931,” Kennan Institute for Advanced Studies: Occasional Paper, Number 193 (1984), pp. 9, 25-26.Google Scholar
  12. 63.
    Jeffrey Brooks, “Discontinuity in the Spread of Print Culture, 1917-1927,” Kennan Institute for Advanced Russia Studies, Occasional Paper, Number 138 (Washington, D.C., 1981), pp. 32–33.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ben Eklof
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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