Nizhnii-Novgorod: Izd. Vserossiiskoi chrezvychainoi komissii po likvidatsii bezgramotnosti, 1921. Large octavo (single folded sheet); 32 pp. A fine copy.
Early provincial edition, and a fine copy, of the first mass-produced Soviet primer for illiterate adults, published by the newly formed All-Russian Emergency Commission for the Elimination of Illiteracy (Vserossiiskaia chrezvychainaia komissia po likvidatsii bezgramotnosti; Likbez, founded in 1920). Initially published in Moscow, this edition was printed at Nizhnii-Novgorod. Covered in large print slogans, with strong rhythmic alternations, the design and layout of the publication are clearly inspired by Russian Futurism. The simple texts are filled with Bolshevik vocabulary and the idea of the need for social and political change is constantly reiterated. The palindrome “My – ne raby, raby ne – my” (We are not slaves, slaves we are not/slaves are silent) coined by Aleksandr Shneer opens the text, and came to be known all across the Soviet Republics from this primer. The book moves quickly from simple rhymes to complex texts, including poems by Nikolai Nekrasov, Valery Briusov, and Maxim Gorky. Each text is followed by an ideologically charged question to be discussed in the classroom, and the authors (all of whom published other primers related to literacy and political education) explicitly state that teaching reading and writing should be connected with political literacy.
Illiteracy was a major issue in turn-of-the-century Russia, with literacy rates for 1897 at only 21% of the population (29% for men and 13% for women). This became a problem for the new Soviet state as the Bolsheviks tried to ensure political participation of a largely illiterate population. In 1923 the volunteer organization “Down with illiteracy” (Doloi bezgramotnost) was formed, which mobilized over a million volunteers in literacy campaigns. This was the first primer produced by Likbez, which published over forty in a variety of languages from 1920–1925. The primer went through many editions throughout the 1920s and 1930s with new slogans replacing the old ones. This early version was quickly outdated because in addition to Marx and Lenin it mentions Trotsky, who was defeated by Stalin as Lenin’s successor by 1927 and was therefore removed from the later editions. The slave palindrome was later darkly referenced in Osip Mandelstam’s 1937 poem “Oboroniaet son moiu donskuiu son’” from his Voronezh Notebooks, in which Stalin is evoked as a slave master of an entire country which sings in chorus “the slaves must not be slaves, the slaves must not be slaves.” KVK, OCLC show copies of the 1920 edition at Harvard, Stanford, Melbourne, Nanterre, Leiden, Stockholm. Of this 1921 regional edition, we can only trace the copies at Stockholm and Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.
Book ID: 50116