The general-education section attached to the military department of the Central Executive Committee has issued a First Reading-Book for use by the soldiers. I do not know who compiled this book, but I can clearly see that it was someone who, in the first place, did not know the people for whom he was compiling it; who, secondly, had a poor understanding of the matters he was writing about; and who, thirdly, was not well acquainted with the Russian language. And these qualities are not sufficient for the compilation of a First Reading-Book for our soldiers.
At the beginning of this little book of 32 pages we find a Memorandum for the soldier and revolutionary. This memorandum, in which every word should have been carefully weighed, is written in a monstrous sort of language. ‘A handful of generals and ministers trampled on the bones (!!!) of the millions of soldiers who went into battle’ ... How can one trample on the bones of persons who are going into battle? ‘In the villages there was not a crust of bread or a glass of milk, for everything had been given to the landlords and their dogs’ (!!!) ‘The evil and greedy manufacturer squandered millions abroad, but if the worker asked for a rise of some (!!!) farthings, they shot him down without mercy.’ In conclusion it is said, on behalf of the soldier: ‘I will know that, besides strength, I need also another strength – knowledge and literacy.’ Evidently, the writer meant to say: ‘Besides the strength that weapons give I need another kind of strength as well – literacy and know ledge.’ The writer merely forgot that ‘the strength of literacy’ is needed also by those who compile textbooks.
Among Our sayings, included in the second part of the book, we encounter such pearls as: ‘He thought and thought, and at last thought something up,’ or: ‘A soldier without a gun is worse than an old woman,’ and so on.
Further on we find the worker’s monologue from the bawling bombastic and false play by Andreyev, King Famine. Andreyev’s conceits will not, of course, be understood by the soldier who needs to learn the ABC of his mother-tongue.
After this comes, unexpectedly, The Poor Man’s Lot, by Surikov. The next page is devoted to Gogol’s A Russian Saying. Then we have Krylov’s fable Miron; and to Krylov’s fables, that codex of petty-bourgeois wisdom and opportunism is ascribed, as well as ‘profundity of thought’, also ‘immense educational importance for the Russian people’.
On page 15 we are surprised to come upon Chemnitzer’s fable The Rich Man and the Poor Man, [I.I. Chemnitzer (Khemnitser), 1745-1784, was a poet whose fables were popular in the 19th century.] in which Chemnitzer complains of this sort of social injustice: ‘But the poor man, even though of princely stock, even though of angelic mind’, and so on. The fable is adapted to the feelings of a well-born but impoverished nobleman. What Chemnitzer has to offer a Red Army man in a first reading book is beyond anyone’s guess!
But best of all are the unsigned little articles: The Globe, Wealth, Social Differences, Mother Earth, and the rest. Here we read: ‘The world belongs equally to everyone and must be shared out equally.’ The author does not explain how the world is to be shared out equally and in how many slices. Further on: ‘The work done by every man is not his property but that of the state, which feeds and clothes him.’ The author, it is clear, seriously supposes that he is expounding socialist doctrine: ‘The work (!) done by every man is the property (!!) of the state (!!!).’ Subsequently we are told that wealth is ‘the weapon of the robber, by whose (the robber’s?) means a small gang of thieves has taken for itself the fruits of the labour of all men’. From this the conclusion is drawn that wealth must be ‘wrested from those hands which have held it for too long’. Wrested from those hands (!!!).
Last updated on: 23.12.2006