Joseph Stalin was the director of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1929 until his death in 1953. Stalin had played a critical role in the Russian Revolution, working closely with Lenin and running the Bolshevik newspaper, Pravda. When Lenin took control, he made Stalin General Secretary of the Communist Party.
After Lenin's death, Stalin manipulated his way into power by promoting a vision of a strong Soviet Union instead of the ideal of world domination that was proposed by his rival, Leon Trotsky. Just to make sure that he was successful in taking the leadership Stalin had Trotsky sent into exile. Following this move, he became dictator of the Soviet Union in 1929.
Stalin's grand vision was to turn the USSR into an industrial powerhouse that would rival any of the countries in the West. To do this, he had to control the USSR with an iron fist and demanded total obedience from even the youngest among the population.
In fact, Stalin saw the kids of the USSR as a critical building block for his new empire and built a number of social frameworks to ensure that from the youngest age the children of the USSR pledge allegiance to their country, to Stalin, and to his vision of a new world where they were no longer individuals but pieces of the machine of state.
Work within this structure, and you were safe, fail to conform, and you would become one of the estimated 40 million people who died in the USSR under Stalin.
15 Roses For Stalin
When Stalin came to power, he instigated a cult of personality that cast him as a benevolent, god-like figure who was the role model to which everyone would aspire. This propaganda was directed towards children from a very early age through posters and paintings like the one above.
In these images, Stalin is almost always shown standing up, with broad shoulders and wearing a military uniform. The idea was to depict him as a strong but slightly aloof fatherly type. The kind of man you would want to work hard to impress and to have him be proud of you.
The propaganda was designed to strengthen the values that Stalin held up as necessary, namely, co-operation, the desire to better yourself to better the state, and respect for authority. Realistically it was not respect for authority that Stalin was promoting, it was blind obedience.
14 Under A Watchful Eye
Stalin’s social control took hold at a very early age. The equivalent of daycare centers were set up so that both male and female workers would be available to contribute to the state without the worry of finding someone to look after their children. At least that was the propaganda. In reality, anyone who did not want to go to work, but instead wanted to stay home with their children, was branded an enemy of the state and usually disappeared.
In the meantime, the children who now fell under the care of the state for the majority of the day were indoctrinated with Stalin’s vision and taught to be blindly obedient because “Father Stalin” was always watching and you should never disappoint him.
In the photograph above, children are being taught a carefully crafted curriculum designed to give them a well-rounded education, because this was thought to make them better citizens in general. All of this is done under the watchful eye of Stalin, looking down from the obligatory classroom flag.
13 Thank You, Comrade Stalin
These children were the first generation to grow up under Stalin and to have never experienced any other kind of cultural or political atmosphere. The youth in the USSR were given educational and recreational opportunities funded by the state while being bathed in the state-sanctioned propaganda that elevated Stalin to a god-like being.
Posters and songs peppered the schools with the slogan “Thanks to Comrade Stalin for our happy childhood,” and these children genuinely believed this was true. They supported the values of the society which supported them and accepted the rigid government authority as a necessary structure under which everyone had the opportunity to flourish.
Much of this blind allegiance was a result of the propaganda in schools which depicted the Soviet Union as a utopia that was under siege from a wicked, decadent Western society.
12 The Little Octoberists
During 1923 - 1924, a loose term “Little Octobrists” began to pop up in post-revolutionary Russia. The phrase referred to the children who were born in 1917, the year of the October revolution and singled them out as the first children lucky enough to have been born into the new USSR.
Under Stalin, the term was used as the name of a republic-wide youth group for children between the ages of seven to nine years old. This organization was politically rooted and used to indoctrinate children when they were outside the official reach of the school system.
Little Octoberists were grouped by grade level, and everyone in the school was expected to join. Each school grade group was further divided into groups of five, called stars, and the teams were run under the leadership of the next age level organization, the Young Pioneers.
In the photo above, a Young Octoberist is taking part in a ceremony that will elevate him, due to his age, to the Young Pioneers.
11 The Young Pioneers
There were active scout troops in Russia before the revolution, and after Lenin came to power, this structure was used as a blueprint for the Young Pioneers. Stalin embraced the Young Pioneer movement and used it to further indoctrinate children with his ideals.
Similar to scouts, the Young Pioneers promoted being prepared, sports, social cooperation, and outdoor skills, but unlike the scout organization the Young Pioneers was run by the government and heavily politicized.
Each secondary school would have a Young Pioneer detachment which all children were expected to join. At the after-school meetings, children would be required to wear their uniforms and actively participate in activities. The Young Pioneers would also be expected to attend the publicly funded summer camps. This picture was taken at one of those camps, and it is telling that all of the children appear to have joyless expressions on their faces.
10 Children On The City Streets
Not all children in the USSR at this time had the benefit of parents, a home, and a place inside the system. Russia had a huge homelessness problem, and a staggering number of those living on the streets were children.
Homeless children were not a new phenomenon under Stalin; many flooded the cities during the First World War when their parents left to go to fight and never returned. A second wave washed into the same urban centers after the Russian Revolution when many adults were slaughtered to reduce opposition to the revolutionaries.
By the time Stalin was in power, it was estimated there were between four and a half and seven million homeless children on the streets of Russia. These figures only took into account those that were visibility homeless, children who were moving from house to house, begging shelter from family members were not included.
9 A State Solution
Recognizing the problem of homeless children, the government took action, not for the benefit of the children so much as to ensure there was no hint of failure of the state to look after its citizens.
Child welfare organizations sprung up all across the USSR. From emergency shelters and special boarding schools for the disabled to state-run orphanages that took in children from birth, official institutions were created to take children off of the streets.
Young children in the orphanages were frequently taken for walks that were really about parading them through the streets to show what a good job the state was doing of looking after them. As in the photo above, the children were dressed in their orphanage "uniform" and the staff were accompanied by a state representative to ensure only officially sanctioned information was shared.
8 Orphanages For Non-Orphans
Not all children in orphanages were actually orphans. The child on the far left of this photo is Ludmilla Lastuhina, and because of Stalin's antisemitic policies, she had been named Ludmilla by her parents to hide the fact she was Jewish.
In the year she was born, 1937, Ludmilla’s father was deported to Siberia during the purge of Jewish intellectuals, and from then until 1941 Ludmilla was raised in a children's home in the Ukraine while her mother worked in a turbine factory. Mother and daughter did manage to see each other occasionally but were not given the opportunity to develop a close mother-daughter relationship.
The little girl was raised to hate Jews and to think of Stalin as her father, and it was only when her mother took her from the home and escaped to Poland in 1946 that Ludmilla discovered she was Jewish.
7 A Man-Made Famine
From 1932 -1933 Ukraine had been the location of what became known as Holodomor or the Famine-Genocide during which the state manufactured famine killed an estimated seven to ten million people.
Stalin had instituted a policy of collectivization in which land and livestock were taken from the peasants that owned them and transferred to state-run collective farms. The previous owners of the farms became day laborers who were paid in food, and the majority of the output was sent to the cities to feed factory workers.
When the inexperience of the administrators who were running the farms led to crop loss, all household foodstuffs were taken away, and travel was restricted. The Ukrainians were trapped in a land with no food, no ability to grow their own, and were cast in propaganda as thieves who were hoarding food that they had “stolen from the mouths of the factory workers.”
Food theft was punishable by death, and things became so bad the government was forced to print posters declaring "To eat your own children is a barbarian act." More than 2,500 people were convicted of the cannibalism of children during the Holodomor.
6 Saved Through Work
Once the children of the orphanages were old enough, they were sent to local schools in the same way as the children who lived with their own families were. However, as the children grew older they often experienced difficulties in school.
There was a dilemma over what to do with these children. They were a potential source of labor for the state, but they were in danger of sowing seeds of dissent among the other kids. Stalin's Russia, of course, came up with a solution to this problem.
Working colonies and communes were created so that the older children could “experience the satisfaction of contributing to society through hard work.” Of course, there was no question of turning down a place in one of these colonies you went, or you were exiled.
5 Better Off On The Street
Of course, not every child was brainwashed entirely in the schools or child welfare institutions that sprang up to look after the homeless youth of the cities. If the Soviet propaganda was to be believed, the homeless children had all been provided happy, healthy, places to live and be nurtured. In response to this, children were expected to work hard and achieve their highest potential to further the State.
In reality, many of the orphanages and children's homes were filthy, miserable places where at best children were treated in an indifferent, uncaring way and at worst they were abused in the worst ways possible. As a result, many children tried to escape the State-run institutions and preferred to live on the street then to return to the horrors they had experienced in care.
4 Little Enemies Of The State
This is a page from a binder holding pages of photographs of arrested children who were sent to the gulag for crimes such as stealing an apple or escaping from an orphanage.
In 1935 Stalin introduced a new article to the criminal code which allowed children as young as twelve to be sentenced as adults. Those kids who were surviving on the streets by committing petty thefts and other crimes could now be rounded up and sent to the Gulags.
The law was also used to round up the children whose parents had been previously sent to the gulags for political crimes. The theory was that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and by imprisoning these children the government was preventing them from growing up and creating opposition to the state.
3 Children In The Gulags
Many of the gulags were in the far north of Russia, in Siberia, where the winters were bitterly cold and difficult to survive, and even during the summer, the weather was hostile. Children would be weakened due to a lack of food, no medical care and so were susceptible to many of the diseases that ran rampant through the camps.
Untold hundreds of thousands of children died of typhus, malaria, smallpox, and other diseases and the childhood mortality rate at one point was 12% per month.
The children who found themselves in the gulag were living in dirty cells, without as much as a bed, a mattress, or a blanket on which to sleep. They also fell prey to older prisoners who would steal their food and force them into prostitution.
2 No Escape From Work
Those children lucky enough not to be killed by cold, illness, or violence were put to work for the good of the state. It did not matter how old or how small the child was, if they ended up at the gulag they worked and if they were too weak to work they died.
The children in the gulags were not just those who were arrested themselves. Women were not exempt from being exiled if they were pregnant and plenty of babies were born in the camps. In addition, any woman who was sent to the gulag, but had a child under two, could take the child with her.
Leaving your children with relatives was not an option as by taking in a criminal's children, they would be seen as condoning the criminal's actions and would be arrested themselves.
1 Exile As A Family Affair
Sometimes, whole families or even entire small towns were ‘relocated’ and loaded onto filthy cattle trains to be taken to the camps. A family would be given an hour to gather together what they wanted to take with them and then they were transported to a central location.
Once the families arrived at this holding area, they would wait until a train was available and be packed onto it. The trains had no heating and did not stop for breaks. The only food and drink were what the families had packed, and many died on the journey.
When the families were resettled, they were often made to pose for the photos above which were used for propaganda. The idea was to show how beautiful life was for those who had been relocated. Children and parents were kept together and had activities like music and reading to enjoy.
Sources: atlasobscura.com, thevieweast.wordpress.com, blogs.bu.edu, russian-sales.com, russiapedia.rt.com, brewminate.com, dailymail.co.uk, m.harunyahya.com, imrussia.org, coldwarsites.net, dissertationreviews.org, collections.ushmm.org, paulbogdanor.c0m,