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Uprooting Otherness: the Literacy Campaign in NEW-era Russia.

Uprooting Otherness: the Literacy Campaign in NEW-era Russia. By Charles E. Clark (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press; London: Associate University Presses, 2000. 235 pp.).

Modem revolutionaries have often associated their revolutions with the promotion of literacy and the dissemination of certain texts. The Bolsheviks were no exception. They devoted substantial resources to literacy campaigns during the Civil War and then again during the period of the mixed economy known as the New Economic Policy (NEP). This is a largely administrative history of their efforts from 1923 through 1927. Since there has been relatively little study of the mechanisms they used to put their policies in play or of the difficulties they faced in doing so, the book is useful. It is also a case study in the mobilization of cadres, although as the author points out, the reading rooms and local educational centers of the literacy campaigns were hardly the first choice of those who wished to link their future with the new social order. It was to be funded in part by members' dues, but money from the central government was always critical.

In 1923, the Bolshevik leaders envisaged teaching millions of people. They placed their priority on soldiers and trade unionists, beginning with the cities and then rapidly extending the campaign to the countryside. As in the case of nearly everything else in the society, policy was made at the top, but the burden of administration fell on local government. An official "Down With Illiteracy Society" (ODN) was organized into cells, like the Communist Party. The government assumed that party members and members of its youth organization would take the lead. This did not always happen, as Clark shows. Those who enrolled in the society committed themselves to a course of study and attendance at various functions, such as plays and lectures. The government's objectives were two-fold, first to promote the skills of reading and writing, and secondly to make the society a "school of socialism." That there might be a contradiction between the two was not evident to them, but it was to some who participated, particular ly those chiefly interested in acquiring skills.

The author might have done more to analyze the content of the program. He tells us that the reading rooms had the central newspapers, classics and works by highly promoted American authors such as Jack London, as well as booklets on cooperatives and other topics of economic interest. What is missing is some sense of the thrust of the propaganda effort. What did the Bolsheviks try to teach from day one, and how well did they do? Some analysis of how the cohort the effort targeted fared in the census of 1926 and ill-fated census of the late 1930s would have also been valuable.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Brooks, Jeffrey
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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