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Why the novel “How steel was tempered” returns to the school curriculum: A hymn to work or “the apotheosis of idiocy”

Date: March 31, 2023 Time: 08:25:43

The Ministry of Education decided to return Nikolai Ostrovsky’s novel “How Steel Was Tempered” to the school curriculum.

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The Ministry of Education decided to return Nikolai Ostrovsky’s novel “How Steel Was Tempered” to the school curriculum. Along with “Steel”, Alexei Tolstoy’s story “The Russian Character”, Alexander Fadeev’s “The Young Guard” and several other books are returning. And they want to remove (but so far no solution) “The Gulag Archipelago” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. But it was the story of Pavka Korchagin that turned out to be in the center of public discussion. Some say it’s been a long time. Others, but it’s really literature, why are you again filling the school curriculum with the Soviet obligation, from which even then the cheekbones turned back?


Do you know this phrase? “The most precious thing for a person is life, and one must live it in such a way that it is not terribly painful for the years spent aimlessly.” She still would. It was a real Soviet meme. The cynics (each class has its own notable cynics) uttered it with derision, the correct guys – with pathos, but, as they say, there were no indifferent ones. Actor Vladimir Konkin rose to fame precisely after starring in the film adaptation of the novel (and there were three in total). And then my grandmother said in two if “Steel” was an obligation. Probably not the book that you read under the pillow, and tears well up in your eyes, not “White Bim, black ear.” But – read. It makes no sense to cite circulations as proof of this thesis: Leonid Brezhnev’s works had no less circulations. But the people who grew up then will not lie: after all, it is not “Tselina”. It’s not a boring agitprop. A thing made with the heart.

And here it is in the yard in 1989. The USSR stands and is not going to fall (who knew that it had two years left? Nobody knew). Already at the end of 1988, the children were writing an essay based on Ostrovsky’s novel. A new year is coming – the novel is excluded from the program.

And somehow this event passed without much public discussion. It Started Later: Throughout the 2010s, bloggers wondered, sometimes presenting the wildest versions, what it was that made the Soviet system abandon an important Soviet book and abandon it. And then a lot of things changed, so this changed too. We honestly search for contemporary explanations for the event, traces of joy and outrage at the decision, but we don’t really find them. While it still existed externally, the USSR was quietly and naturally dying internally.

The most common version: the party has announced a course towards a market economy. And Ostrovsky’s novel is against the “rich”. For example: “You look, it used to be, to the master’s children well-fed and clothed, and it covers hatred.” And, they say, it was decided that there was no need to incite hatred of the emerging class. But of course, this is a modern design, there was nothing like that. There was more than enough hate (what is the song about “major boys”, which no one banned). The party did not build any capitalism. The cooperator had just appeared and it was assumed that he would not be “rich”, but would be a “hunchback” (how much he steps on, so much he earns) – what a class enemy he is.

Actually, there was something else. Many things returned to literary circulation, and also to the school curriculum. The same Master and Margarita de Bulgakov. Books by Andrei Platonov, Solzhenitsyn – you cannot list them all. And the school curriculum is not rubber. And there was a clear understanding that it was not necessary to go head-on, like Ostrovsky’s. It should be like in Heart of a Dog (the movie was released in late 1987): a revolution is a tragic and difficult process. Each has its own truth.

Stop, the attentive reader will say, but is it on the “Steel”, on the forehead? There, this tragic process at least eats with a spoon. Yes, that is correct. But “Steel” was handicapped by what she had previously rescued her from: she was part of the Soviet coordinate system. And she suffered along with the dismantling of this system.


You know, maybe it’s a good thing they got kicked out then. The 90s started. Drink everything and sell everything, apocalypse, your mother. Ostrovsky at least did not get dirty in this. Children did not write school essays in the spirit of “I read the novel and I do not agree with what was written, because it is necessary to trade, and not build stupid construction sites.” It’s like with Viktor Tsoi, Vladimir Vysotsky: fans of him, no, no, yes, they express a seditious thought, they say, it’s good that the idols remained there. And they didn’t know the history, the dubious talk shows, the scandalous revelations and all that.

Well, in the West there were no 90, but in the meantime they knew the book. After all, the novel was first translated (and it was Japanese) back in 1936. After Japan, China learned about Korchagin’s adventures, and the literary critic Xia Zhongxian recently wrote that the book is still read in China in the present. Of course, the book was also published in English, and we come across a figure (we cannot verify it) that a total of 2.5 million copies of the novel were printed in the world not in Russian (and not counting translations). to languages). of the peoples of the USSR). Apparently the total number of countries wishing to play Soviet classics is about a hundred.

It seems that the Chinese among the readers are in the first place. The opinion that the novel is studied in schools is not entirely true (its reading is recommended, but not required in all schools), however, in 2017, when a large-scale survey on books was being conducted Russians in the country, students and schoolchildren, of course, named Chekhov, Bulgakov, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but in the first place unexpectedly there was “How Steel Was Tempered.” And this is really unexpected, because Mao Zedong, when he conceived the Great Leap Forward, was believed to need artistic guidelines, and Ostrovsky’s book fit the bill perfectly. According to this logic, there is no longer Mao, Ostrovsky is also forgotten, but no. Why this is so is clear from the confession of the actor Jet Li: “There is a great book that I read in my youth that had a decisive influence on me: “How Steel Was Tempered” by Nikolai Ostrovsky. This book raised me as person, and I still constantly reread it. And wherever I am, I quote the words of Paul, “do not be afraid of obstacles and ups and downs on your way, for steel can only be tempered in this way.”

And this is what happens. China has become the number one country before our very eyes. It can be argued ad nauseam that the country was run by a wise party, without idiots or whims, but, of course, it is based on the selfless work of hundreds of millions of people, work that a European could never dream of. It seems that in Nikolai Ostrovsky’s novel, the Chinese found what Ostrovsky put in it – the labor song, they adopted it, and this is the result.

In Russia, meanwhile, Ostrovsky was not read and a large economy was not built. You can turn around like this, right?


And it is possible in another way. We honor the writer Mikhail Weller. “As for the hardening of steel, we really succeeded in hardening our brains to a state of molten iron,” Weller writes. What is it about?

And about the fact that the narrow-gauge railway, which was built by Pavka Korchagin and his comrades, could not actually be built in such a hurry. Winter is on the way, and then it turns out that there is no firewood and it is impossible to carry it. You need a way. November, it seems that the construction season is over, but that’s how it should be. Clumsiness? Uniform. The ignorance of the managers must compensate the heroism of the masses. Familiar.

Weller gives calculations: 6 versts from the highway, 300 Komsomol members. It turns out that a Komsomol member is 20 meters away. Or 25 sleepers and three rail links. And it turns out that there is no special place for heroism. The coven brigade will manage sooner. And what took so long? Komsomol members are not covens, they do not know how to do it. The organization is incompetent. The working conditions are brutal. “Apotheosis of idiocy. The prototype of our buildings. Oh my God! Hardening of steel? This is a hammer blow to the balls, not hardened steel!”, sums up the writer.

And here, of course, there is something to complain about. The prototype of our construction sites, you say? Our, apparently, Soviet? Which can be argued, people were dropping dead on construction sites of the century, but they could, like in Europe, build and live like a human being. But to complete the picture, it would be nice to see how, for example, a grandiose factory is being built in modern Russia. Not an assembly shop, three cardboard shops, but a serious one, a steel foundry, for example. But there are few examples. Here is the problem. But let’s not fool ourselves. Weller’s main thought: Pavel would have to brainstorm and not get involved in a dead-end business. The heroism of him is bad. And the book teaches not to think, but to act.

There is another argument as well. Few people know, but we don’t really see the author’s version of the book. Changes were made to the text: both the author himself, while he was alive, and the censors. Ostrovsky agreed against many edits, but self-censorship was also not alien to him. New conspiracies were constantly being opened in the country. Either Trotskyists or deviators. And it seems to us that “How Steel Was Tempered” is a “photograph”, almost like a document, but in reality it is not. Steel wavered with the party line.

So why read? There are artistic merits, but Tolstoy has more (and children do not read Tolstoy either). Studying history is strange, there are diaries and authentic testimonies. To call the ruin of health for an idea is doubly strange. To quote Mayakovsky, “this is not your eighteenth year.” Here are the arguments.


However, the decision has been made, and this decision, despite and against it, is correct. And that’s why.

The work and the feat have value regardless of the circumstances. Circumstances can turn a feat into a tragedy, yes. The Komsomol members, who were chiseling the permafrost, fell from exhaustion, because they did not know that the rails could be laid directly on the ground. Mayakovsky’s heroes, frozen in the barracks, dreaming of a garden city: but in the end, neither city, nor garden, because the planned economy was a little wrong. A Komsomol member is a hero, and a builder is a hero, but bad managers are bad managers, and the conversation with them is completely different.

And here such a dilemma arises in full growth: life seems to have changed, capitalism, work is paid, but a small businessman who builds a small business despite not sleeping for days, is he a hero? Why is he hitting the wall? Why is he not like everyone else? What kind of Pavka Korchagin are you looking for? Or an engineer who, out of the little that our factories produce, cuts out a purely Russian unit, is he a fool? Well he is stupid. Or is he also a hero?

Ask the Chinese or something. Now they have salaries and even pensions. Even 15 years ago: a stinking hostel, crowded, sleeping two hours a day, a crowd of unemployed at the entrance, kicked out at the slightest offense, there are so many who want. Built, built and finally built. Reading about Pavka Korchagin. So, she taught. So, he will teach ours. And let ours read.


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Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.

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