Gymnasium Farms and Corrective Gymnasia

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“Gymnasium Farms and Corrective Gymnasia” was written in the autumn of 1895 in answer to S. N. Yuzhakov’s article “An Educational Utopia. A plan for Universal, Compulsory Secondary Education,” published in Russkoye Bogatstvo (Russian Wealth)[1] for May 1895.

Lenin severely criticised the plan advanced by Yuzhakov, who proposed compulsory secondary education in agricultural high schools (gymnasia), the poorer students having to cover the cost of their tuition by labour service, and showed its reactionary character. At the end of 1897, when in exile in Siberia, Lenin returned to this subject in the article “Gems of Narodnik Project-Mongering”.

The article was published over the signature of K.T-in on November 25 (December 7), 1895, in the Samarsky Vestnik (Samara Herald).

The newspaper Samarsky Vestnik appeared in Samara (now the city of Kuibyshev) from 1883 to 1904. From the end of 1896 to March 1897 it was controlled by the “legal Marxists” (P. P. Maslov, R. Gvozdyov [R. E. Zimmerman], A. A. Sanin, V. V. Portugalov and others). In the 1890s it published occasional articles by Russian revolutionary Marxists.

The solution to the problem of capitalism in Russia proposed by the Narodniks and represented latterly most strikingly by Russkoye Bogatstvo has long been known. While not denying the existence of capitalism, for they are compelled to admit its development, the Narodniks consider our capitalism not to be a natural and necessary process crowning the age-long development of commodity economy in Russia, but an accident, a phenomenon not firmly rooted and merely indicative of a departure from the path prescribed by the nation’s entire historical life. “We must,” say the Narodniks, “choose different paths for the fatherland,” leave the capitalist path and “communalise” production, making use of the existing forces of the “whole” of “society,” which, so they say, is already beginning to be convinced that there is no basis for capitalism.

Obviously, if a different path may be chosen for the fatherland, if the whole of society is beginning to understand the need for this, then the “communalising” of production presents no great difficulties and requires no preparatory historical period. One has only to draw up a plan of such communalisation and to convince the appropriate persons of its feasibility–and the “fatherland” will turn from the mistaken path of capitalism to the road of socialisation.

Everybody understands how tremendously interesting a plan must be that promises such radiant perspectives; that is why the Russian public should be very thankful to Mr. Yuzhakov, one of the regular contributors of Russkoye Bogatstvo, for having undertaken the job of drawing up such a plan. In the May issue of Russkoye Bogatstvowe find his article “Educational Utopia,” with the sub-heading “Plan for Nation-Wide Compulsory Secondary Education.”

What connection has this with the “communalising” of production?—the reader will ask. The most direct connection, since Mr. Yuzhakov’s plan is a very broad one. The author plans to set up in every volost a gymnasium embracing the entire male and female population of school age (from 8 to 20 years, and to a maximum of 25 years). Such gymnasia should be productive associations that engage in farming and moral undertakings, that by their labour not only maintain the population of the gymnasia (which, according to Mr. Yuzhakov, constitutes a filth of the entire population), but additionally provide resources for the maintenance of the entire child population. The detailed account made by the author for a typical volost gymnasium (or “gymnasium farm,” or “agricultural gymnasium”) shows that all in all the gymnasium will maintain over a hail of the entire local population. If we bear in mind that each such gymnasium (20,000 dual, i.e., 20,000 male and 20,000 female gymnasia, are projected for Russia) is provided with land and means of production (it is intended to issue 4 /, per cent government-guaranteed Zemstvo[2] bonds with s/, per cent redemption per annum)—then we shall understand how truly “enormous” the “plan” is. Production is socialised for a total of half the population. At one blow, then, a different path is chosen for the fatherland! And that is achieved “without any expenditure (sic!) on the part of the government, Zemstvo, or people.” It “may seem a utopia only at first sight,” but actually it is “far more feasible than nation-wide elementary education.” Mr. Yuzhakov testifies that the financial operation required for this “is no chimera or utopia,” and is achieved not only, as we have seen, without expenditure, without any expenditure, but even without any change in the “established educational plans”!! Mr. Yuzhakov quite justly remarks that “all this is of no little importance when one wishes not to confine oneself to an experiment, but to achieve really nation-wide education.” He says, it is true, that “I have not set myself the aim of drawing up a working plan,” but he does give us the proposed number of male and female pupils per gymnasium, an estimate of the manpower required to maintain the entire population of the gymnasia and enumerations of the pedagogical and administrative staffs, and indicates both the rations in kind for gymnasia members and the salaries in cash for tutors, doctors, technicians and craftsmen. The author makes a detailed calculation of the number of working days required for agricultural pursuits, the amount of land needed for each gymnasium, and the financial resources needed to get them installed. He provides, on the one hand, for members of national minorities and sects who cannot enjoy the blessings of nation-wide secondary education, and, on the other hand, for persons excluded from the gymnasia because of bad conduct. The author’s calculations are not confined to one typical gymnasium. Not at all. He raises the issue of establishing all the 20,000 dual gymnasia and indicates how to get the land required for this and how to secure a “satisfactory contingent of tutors, administrators and managers.”

One can understand the enthralling interest of such a plan, an interest that is not only theoretical (evidently, the plan for communalising production drawn up so concretely is intended to finally convince all sceptics and to demolish all who deny the feasibility of such plans), but also genuinely practical. It would be strange if the supreme government paid no attention to the project for organising nation-wide compulsory secondary education, particularly when the author of the proposal definitely asserts that the thing can be done “without any expenditure” and “will meet with obstacles not so much from the financial and economic circumstances of the task, as from the cultural circumstances,” which, however, are “not insuperable.” Such a project directly concerns not only the Ministry of Public Education, but equally the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Agriculture, and even, as we shall see below, the War Ministry. The projected “corrective gymnasia” will, most likely, have to go to the Ministry of Justice. There can be no doubt that the rest of the ministries will also be interested in the project, which, in Mr. Yuzhakov’s words, “will answer all the above-enumerated requirements (i.e., of education and maintenance) and, very likely, many others too.”

We are therefore certain that the reader will not complain if we set about a detailed examination of this very striking project.

Mr. Yuzhakov’s chief thought is the following: no studies whatever take place in the summer time, which is devoted to agricultural work. Further, pupils, on graduating the gymnasium, are left to work there for some time; they do winter work and are used for industrial jobs that supplement agricultural work and enable each gymnasium by its own labours to maintain all the pupils and workers, the entire teaching and administrative staff and to cover expenditure on education. Such gymnasia, Mr. Yuzhakov justly remarks, would be large agricultural artels. This last expression does not, by the way, leave the slightest doubt about our being right in regarding Mr. Yuzhakov’s plan as the first steps in the Narodnik “communalisation” of production, as part of the new path that Russia is to choose so as to avoid the vicissitudes of capitalism.

“At the present time,” argues Mr. Yuzhakov, “the pupils are graduated from the gymnasium at the age of 18 to 20, and occasionally there is a delay of one or two years. Under compulsory education ... the delay will become still more widespread. People will be graduated later, while the three senior classes will be made up of the 16- to 25-year age groups, if 25 years becomes the age limit, after reaching which they must leave without finishing the course. Thus, if we bear in mind the additional contingent of adult fifth-class pupils one may boldly consider about one-third of the pupils in the gymnasium to be ... of working age.” Even if the proportion is reduced to one quarter, the author calculates further, by adding to the eight gymnasium classes the two classes for preparatory elementary school (illiterate eight-year-old children would be admitted), we would still get a very large number of workers who, assisted by semi-workers, could cope with the summer work. But the “ten-class gymnasium farm,” Mr. Yuzhakov remarks justly, “necessarily requires a certain contingent of winter workers.” Where are they to be got? The author proposes two solutions: 1) the hire of workers (“some of the more deserving of whom might be given a share in the proceeds”). The gymnasium farm should be a profitable undertaking and be able to pay for such hire. But the author “considers another solution of greater importance”: 2) those who have finished the gymnasium course will be obliged to work to cover the expenditure on their tuition and their keep while in the junior classes. That is their “direct duty,” adds Mr. Yuzhakov—a duty, of course, only for those who cannot pay the cost of tuition. It is they who will constitute the necessary contingent of winter workers and the supplementary contingent of summer workers.

Such is the first feature of the projected organisation that is to “communalise” one-fifth of the population into agricultural artels. It already enables us to see what sort of different path for the fatherland will be chosen. Wage-labour, which at the present time serves as the only source of livelihood for people who “cannot pay the cost of tuition” and living, is replaced by compulsory unpaid labour. But we must not be disturbed by that: it should not be forgotten that in return the population will enjoy the blessings of universal secondary education.

To proceed. The author projects separate male and female gymnasia, intending to adopt the prejudice prevalent on the European continent against coeducation, which actually would be more rational. “Fifty pupils per class or 500 for all the ten classes, or 1,000 per gymnasium farm (500 boys and 500 girls) will be quite a normal composition” for an average gymnasium. It will have i25 “pairs of workers” and a corresponding number of semi-workers. “If I mention,” says Yuzhakov, “that this number of workers is capable of cultivating the 2,500 dessiatines of land under cultivation in Malorossiya[3] for example, everybody will understand what a tremendous force is provided by the labour of the gymnasium”!...

But in addition to these workers there will be “regular workers,” who “work off” their education and keep. How many of them will there be? The number graduated annually ’will be 45 pupils, male and female. A third of the pupils ’will undergo military service for a period of three years (now a quarter do so. The author raises this number to one-third by cutting down the length of service to three years). “It will only be fair to place the remaining two-thirds in similar conditions, i.e., in keeping them at the gymnasium to work off the cost of their education, and of the education of their comrades who have been called to the colours. All the girls may also be retained for the same purpose.”

The pattern of the new system, arranged for the fatherland that has chosen a different path, is assuming increasingly clear outlines. Now all Russian citizens are obliged to undergo military service and, since the number of persons of military age is larger than the number of soldiers required, the latter are chosen by lot. In communalised production the recruits will also be selected by lot, but as for the rest, it is proposed “to place them in the same conditions,” i.e., to make it obligatory for them to spend three years in service, not military, it is true, but doing work in the gymnasium. They have to work off the cost of keeping their comrades who have been called to the colours. Have all to do so? No. Only those who cannot pay the cost of the tuition. The author has already advanced this proviso above, and below we shall see that for people who are able to pay for tuition, he plans separate gymnasia altogether, of the old type. Why, the question arises, does the keep of comrades called to the colours have to be worked off by those who cannot pay the cost of tuition? and not by those who can? The reason is very understandable. If the gymnasium pupils are divided into paying and non-paying, it is evident that the contemporary structure of society will not be affected by the Reform; that is quite well understood by Mr. Yuzhakov himself. In that case, it is understandable that the state’s general expenditure (on the soldiers) will be borne by those who are without the means of livelihood,[4] proletariat” just as they bear it now in the shape, for example, of indirect taxes, etc. In what way is the new system different? In the fact that nowadays those who have no resources can sell their labour-power, while under the new system they will be obliged to work gratis (i.e., for their keep alone). There cannot be the slightest doubt that Russia will thus avoid all the vicissitudes of the capitalist system. Hired labour, which contains the threat of the “ulcer of the proletariat is driven out and makes way for ... unpaid compulsory labour.

And there is nothing surprising in the fact that people placed in relationships in which labour is compulsory and unpaid should find themselves in conditions corresponding to these relationships. Just listen to what we are told by the Narodnik (“friend of the people”) immediately after the foregoing:

“If marriages are allowed between young people who have finished the course and remain at the gymnasium for three years; if separate premises are arranged for the family workers; and if the profits of the gymnasium allow them to be given at least a modest allowance in cash and kind when they leave it, then such a three years’ stay there will be far less burdensome than military service....”

Is it not obvious that such advantageous conditions will impel the population to bend every effort to gain admittance to the gymnasia? Judge for yourselves: firstly, they will be permitted to marry. True, according to the now existing civil legislation such permission (from the authorities) is not required at all. But bear in mind that these will be gymnasium pupils, male and female, true, as old as 25 years, but still gymnasium pupils. If university students are not permitted to marry, could gymnasium pupils be permitted to do so? And what is more, the permission will depend on the school authorities, consequently, on people with a higher education: obviously, there are no grounds for fearing abuses. Those who graduate the gymnasium and remain as regular workers there, are, however, no longer pupils. Nevertheless, they too, people between 21 and 27 years of age, have to obtain permission to marry. We cannot but recognise that the new path selected by the fatherland involves some curtailment of the civil rights of Russian citizens, but, after all, it must be admitted that the blessings of universal secondary education cannot be acquired without sacrifices. Secondly, separate premises will be provided for family workers, probably no worse than the cubicles now inhabited by factory workers. And thirdly, the regular workers get a “modest allowance” for this. Undoubtedly, the population will prefer the advantages of a quiet life under the wing of the authorities to the turmoils of capitalism, will prefer them to such a degree that some workers will stay permanently at the gymnasium (very likely out of gratitude for being allowed to marry): “The small contingent of regular workers, who remain at the gymnasium altogether and associate (sic!!) themselves with it, supplements these labour forces of the gymnasium farm. Such are the possible and by no means utopian labour forces of our agricultural gymnasium.

Have mercy on us! What is there “utopian” in all this? Regular unpaid workers, who have “associated themselves” with their masters, by whom they are permitted to marry—just ask any old peasant, and he will tell you from his own experience that all this is quite feasible.

(To be continued.)[5]

  1. Russkoye Bogatstvo (Russian Wealth)—a monthly magazine published in St. Petersburg from 1876 to the middle of 1918. In the early 1890s it became the organ of the Narodniks, and was edited by S. N. Krivenko and N. K. Mikhailovsky. The journal advocated reconciliation wit the tsarist government and waged a bitter struggle against Marxism and the Russian Marxists.
    In 1906 it became the organ of the semi-Cadet “Popular Socialist” Party.
  2. Zemstvo—the name given to the local government bodies introduced in the central gubernias of tsarist Russia in 1864. They were dominated by the nobility and their powers were limited to purely local economic problems (hospital and road building, statistics, insurance, etc.) Their activities were controlled by the provincial Governors and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which could prevent the implementation of any decisions disapproved by the government.
  3. The Ukraine.—Ed.
  4. Otherwise the domination of the former over the latter would not be maintained. —Lenin
  5. No continuation followed in the newspaper Samarsky Vestnik.—Ed.