What did you think of Lenin when you were a child?
Soviet Union had created many icons, some of which could be even called brands. However, the most powerful brand prior to Perestroika was Lenin – famous Russian revolutionary, who led the country in 1917 Revolution and years after that.
A lot of Russian people, who are in their 20s now do not have a clue about who he was, but for anybody older than 30 his portrait is the most recognizable picture.
Soviet regime of the 70s and 80s created a cult out of this figure. Each city in the country had a street, named after Lenin, the main square was usually named after Lenin, hundreds of Lenin monuments were mounted both outdoors and indoors, most official organizations had Lenin’s portraits, all classrooms had Lenin’s portraits.
For a child, Lenin would look at you from the inner cover of your first textbook and from many more books and propaganda materials. However, icons tend to get stale. A person, who is no longer alive, eventually becomes history. Official speeches are not a matter of attention for kids. Lenin’s brand needed major rebranding, the brand needed to connect to young audience on emotional level, the brand needed to become relevant again.
One of widely used methods in marketing is associating a brand with a person. If Coca Cola were a person, how will she look like, what will she do, how will she behave in everyday situations? Exactly that was done to Lenin’s brand.
First – visualization. It is difficult for kids to associate themselves with an old bearded man. But Lenin was a child once. Soviet PR came up with a drawing of a curly headed boy and placed that image in the center of a 5-pointed red star pin. First level of membership in a socialism society for a kid was to become an oktyabrenok – October child (reference to October Revolution of 1917). 7-year-old kids became “kids of October (Revolution)” and now they were responsible to study hard, behave well and be good followers of Lenin. In class, we were organized in teams of five people (5 is a reference to the star), teams competed with each other to be the best and also learned how to collaborate.
The next logical step is to learn about Lenin as a child. Who was this boy? What can we learn from him?
Biographers started to dig deep. It looks like stories about Lenin as a kid were based on true stories from his childhood. But these facts were interpreted in a very peculiar way. Any story became an example of a great character, honesty and bravery. One example, which all Russian people know by heart – Volodya Lenin was playing in the house and accidentally broke crystal graphene (crystal bottle for water or drinks). He was afraid that he would get punished, so he lied that he had nothing to do with this accident. But deep inside he was a good boy, so he felt bad about it. And several days later he told his relatives that it was him who broke the thing. Or, another similar situation – he stole some fruits from the kitchen and ate them and also confessed only several days later.
How could these examples of behavior be examples of honesty, bravery and a strong character?! But kids are naive and usually believe everything the teacher says. So nobody questioned the teacher. We were completely brainwashed and believed that Lenin was a great kid. And it is likely that selecting such stories was deliberate – with each story like that, Lenin became a human being, imperfect at first, but learning how to improve and develop his personality.
In the 3rd or 4th grade school kids moved to the next level of the socialist ladder and became pioneers. The entire concept of the Pioneer organization was copied from the American boyscout organization. Kids learn to be social, be good team players and lead in teams. They played interesting games, did good deeds, they learned. Scouts had blue ties; pioneers had red ties. Red color of a tie was symbolic – those ties “were particles of our red flag”, which in return symbolized the color of blood, which was spilled in October revolution. Becoming a pioneer was very important; all kids could not wait to become pioneers. Those who did well in school and also were active as October kids and showed good behavior were honored to become pioneers first. The ritual for those lucky kids typically happened on the Red Square for Muscovites and near Lenin monument in other cities. Kids had to learn oath by heart. It was a long one, so in order to facilitate learning, half of exercise books had it printed on the back cover (the other half had multiplication table).
Here is a translated text of the oath:
I, First name/Last name, joining the ranks of the USSR Pioneer Organisation named after Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, solemnly promise in front of my comrades: to passionately love my homeland; to live, study and fight, as legated by the Great Lenin, as taught by the Communist Party; to always obey laws of Pioneers of the Soviet Union.”
And here is a video, which shows the typical ceremony:
After you became a pioneer, you were fed many more propaganda stories about Lenin, mostly about his fight for Revolution. I do not remember most of them, but there is one story, which I think every Russian who lived at that time does remember. Lenin was imprisoned, but he continued fighting with the Tsar regime even from the prison. For that he needed to communicate with his peers. He invented a smart way to do that – from his ration of food he made ink pots from bread and used milk instead of ink to write letters. Using an iron, his comrades could reveal his thoughts from prison. Kids loved this story and everybody did experiment with milk and iron.
Only now I understand that the fact that Lenin had everyday supply of milk and bread in his ration was something that never existed later in thousands of Soviet prisons…
© 2016 Tatiana Golubeva. All rights reserved.