Sunday, March 27, 2011
Paul Thorez, son of longtime French Community Party leader, Maurice Thorez, has had a long and complex history with the Soviet Union. For Paul Thorez's parents found refuge in the country during the Second World War and maintained close contact with Moscow, the epicenter of global communism, in the post-war world. In fact, Maurice Thorez made frequent political as well as health-related visits to Russia until his death. Not surprisingly, Maurice's sons grew up in the shadow of their father's (and mother's) affection for the motherland of proletarian revolution. Paul's small book, Model Children: Inside the Republic of Red Scarves, examines one concrete manifestation of this affection: his father's decision to send both sons to the U.S.S.R.'s most famous youth camp, Artek, located long the coast of the historic, scenic Crimea.
The pan-Soviet camp, which always admitted fraternal guests from around the socialist world, was a workshop for the production of faithful communists. Camp members exercised, watched thinly veiled propaganda films, learned socialist songs, and deepened their commitment to personal hygiene, collective responsibility, atheism, socialism, Party-loyalty, and pan-Soviet patriotism. Pan-Soviet patriotism was a key dimension of camp life, since the Soviet Union, even in the aftermath of the war, was riven by ethnic and linguistic divisions. At camp, the children were constantly reminded of everything that made the country great, including its vast size, peaceful disposition, military strength, and putative sophistication in the realm of science and technology.
At the time, the children earnestly believed that Russians had invented almost everything, that Lysenko's twisted genetics would revolutionize Russian agriculture, and that the U.S.S.R. was poised to win a third world war, since everybody knew that the First World War had led to the emergence of the first worker-state, and that the Second World War had led to a communist bloc that extended from China to East Germany.
The camp even prepared young people for communist politics. As Paul Thorez describes camp elections, power operated in mysterious ways. Somehow, behind the scenes, a select group of children were nominated for official positions. Somehow, in an aura of mystery, no more than one child actually ended up running for any one office. So, in the end, all elections were unanimous, and the children as a whole believed that they had participated in a genuinely democratic political process, but one that had the merit of expressing the unanimous will of the collective.