The Children’s Commune, Barybino

Memorandum to deputy chairman of Moscow City Children’s Commission on Children’s Commune, Barybino. June 20, 1936


Original Source: GARF, f. 5207, op. 1, d. 1293, ll.7-8. Corrected and certified typewritten copy.

To Comrade Sorokin, deputy chairman of the city children’s commission, from instructors Dubinina and Minaeva

Pursuant to your directive, our inspection on 19 and 20 June of the children’s home at Barybino station.

The children’s home, which bears the name The Children’s Commune, is located twenty km from Barybino station and is situated in very good natural conditions: the buildings of the children’s commune stand on an elevated site in timberland on the bank of the Severianka River.

The children’s commune is designed for six hundred youngsters. Last winter there were 570, and at the time of inspection, 364, for the rest had been sent off to relatives for vacation and sixty had been sent to the Pravda Children’s Home. All the youngsters are of school age, from eight to sixteen. The children’s commune has 256 Young Pioneers.

The children have an extremely unkempt, tattered appearance. First of all we should note that the youngsters are not dressed according to the season: the boys walk around in long trousers, some even in corduroy shirts. Children are dressed in various ways: some in undershirts worn loose over their trousers, some in jackets, some in shoes without laces worn on bare feet, some just barefoot, and one boy even wore high boots. All the clothing was old and torn. A boy named Minaev broke the record in this regard, for he was walking around in one trouser leg, while the other one, ripped along its entire length, hung off him like a wing. A girl named Temnova walked around in a torn dress in such a way that it barely stayed on her shoulders. The girls’ panties have no elastic whatsoever, but the children still found a way to put them on: the girls secure pieces of elastic to their bodies for an indefinite time and then tuck the panties under them so they don’t fall down. We should mention that the children tie on the elastics tightly, and they sleep in them and walk around in them the whole day without removing them.

Moreover, this “wonderful outfitting” is not based on any measurements and one can often see a boy who has used a string to draw in trousers that are too big for him, or a girl in a dress that is too Iona or short.

The youngsters’ hands and feet are dirty and weather-beaten. The haircuts also vary greatly: there are “boxer cuts,” short haircuts, and shaggy hair down to the neck.

The rooms also look unattractive. The beds are old, the boards on them constantly slide over, and one night a girl even fell on the floor altogether. The mattresses are old and in poor condition; 20 percent of them need to be replaced with new ones immediately. There is only a change and a half of bed linen, which is simply unacceptable. The towels in use are dirty. The night tables and chairs are old, and many of them are completely broken.

Much of the time children are left to their own devices without adult supervision. This has resulted in a number of negative situations that we observed during our visit to the children’s commune. The children go swimming in a disorganized manner, without adults. They swim as much as they want, and wherever they want. Some of them choose shallow spots in the river for bathing while others head for deep areas after stocking up on logs and boards. They drop them in the water, then swim around while hanging on to them and knock each other about, so that there is a risk of an accident. Some little kids swim until they are blue and come out of the water totally exhausted. The youngsters immediately start playing on the riverbank, some of them try to catch fish with towels, some wash their clothes, some start campfires; one girl, Tosya Efimova, brought a pen and ink to the riverbank and many youngsters wrote things on their hands. One such inscription, for example, read: “I swear to love Zhenya Belova,” and so forth.

The children also walk in the woods without elders. On 19 June six boys got lost: Karataev, Fedorenko, Shpakov, Spirin, Volkov, and Fadkov. They were all two hours late for supper.

We noticed two black-and-blue marks on the neck of Vera Sokolova. First Vera did not want to explain the reason for these marks, but then, with embarrassment, she said that Liza Ivanova had kissed her in the woods, which resulted in the blue marks on her neck.

There was a case in early spring when two girls from bedrooms 5 and 9 were drowning and Young Pioneer Misha, who by chance was passing by from the village, rescued them.

The children invented a game for themselves that involves hurling a stocking, which has been tightly packed with dust, through the air like a rocket, and as it falls it creates an entire cloud of dust. The youngsters play this game a lot, even though it has been forbidden by the management.

All the facts we have cited indicate that child-rearing work is poorly organized. Yet the children’s commune has a work plan for the summer, and a daily schedule for the children has actually been drawn up, but the schedule is often disregarded and the work plan is not always fulfilled.

With the onset of the vacation period, the children’s commune opened a Young Pioneer camp. Every morning the Pioneers do exercises, line up and raise the flag. Both in the morning and the evening, the lineup is conducted with great ceremony, accompanied by an orchestra.

With regard to the exercises, we should note that while they are done under a physician’s supervision, the youngsters do them in long trousers, and some even in corduroy shirts. Many children knot their shirts at the waist. [A description follows of other outdoor activities.]

On June 19 an evening of performances by the girls’ detachment no. 2 was held. The evening took place in the club of the children’s commune. The program consisted of a recitation, dancing, a production of song and dance called “The Merry Flower Garden” and, as the program said, a performance of physical exercises by little Octobrists. The evening went well. The youngsters were well prepared. A particular standout was Manya Vlasova, who did a lovely job of reciting the poem “Song of Spain.” We find it necessary to remark, however, that the physical-exercise performances by the little Octobrists, in our view, were the most genuine acrobatic number. The youngsters who did it displayed excellent technique and skill. Nevertheless, this number, based on stunts in which the youngsters contorted their bodies into various shapes, was exhausting for them.

Source: Lewis Siegelbaum and Andrei Sokolov, eds., Stalinism as a Way of Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), pp. 282-283.

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