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Thoughts on "Lectures for Parents"

Jeff Korolev


"In simple terms, collectivism means the solidarity of [humanity] with society. Individualism is the opposite of collectivism. In some families, because of lack of attention to this question, children are brought up to be individualists. If a child from earliest childhood does not know where the family means come from, if he is to satisfy only his needs and does not notice the needs of other members of the family, if he fails to relate his family to all Soviet society, if he grows up greedy, demandingthen he has been brought up an individualist. This may be harmful to him and to society." [1]

The transition from capitalism to socialism necessitates a transition from capitalist to socialist superstructure. One such transition will be the transition from individualism to collectivism. These changes in the superstructure cannot be complete until the base of socialism is fully established, but that does not mean it is not worthwhile to struggle against individualism now.


As communists, one of our fundamental tasks is to increase class consciousness in society. As a core element of contemporary society, we must also consider how to best facilitate class consciousness in the family. How do we raise children? Do we act like the western conservative, replacing fanatical devotion to the founding fathers, “freedom,” and one’s favorite NFL team with fanatical devotion to socialist symbols? Do we foster fear and hatred towards the bourgeoisie in the same way that conservatives demonize the dispossessed and the immigrant? Or, do we follow the path of the liberal, parenting “without” ideology in order to avoid unduly influencing the child, but failing to identify that ideology remains all around them.


Instead of falling into the above polarization—unwittingly reproducing captialism's seemingly dichotomous superstructure—materialism can guide our strategy. We know that the child’s material conditions during their upbringing will be primary with regard to the person they become. Children model adults incessantly, and will model the behavior of their parents in the home. This helps to explain why being told how to actby the watchful eye of the parent, Christ, or the Elf on the Shelf, does not work. Classroom posters and sloganeering do not instill virtuous traits.


Yet what will? A virtuous upbringing. As communists and as parents, we can move past the old dictum of, “do as I say, and not as I do”; rather, we can consciously create the necessary material and social conditions in the house in which the child can most naturally flourish—through observation and absorption. This means that decency and discipline in the home are more effective than any pedagogical trick.


In 1937, Soviet educator Anton Semyonovich Makarenko delivered a series of radio lectures entitled Lectures to Parents. In this series, he assessed the parenting structures necessary to bring up children congruent with extant socialist society. In this essay, I will outline the general thrust of these lectures alongside my own occasional opining. By engaging with these lectures, I aim to shed light on some of the basic tenets of Soviet parenting theory, thereby allowing contemporary communist parents to better ascertain which, if any, aspects of Makarenko’s model merit consideration in the 21st century.


Makarenko's first lecture concerned the General Conditions for the Bringing-up of a Family. Before enunciating his parenting theories, Makarenko called on the consciousness of the listening parents, exclaiming:


"Dear Parents! Dear Soviet citizens! The most important part of our lives is bringing up our children. They are the future citizens of our country and of the world. They will create history!"

In the first lecture, Makarenko stated that parents should begin to consider their behavior around their children when very young, and that it would be much better to proactively establish good habits instead of waiting for trouble. While some of these troubles were of course bound to arise in parenting, being proactive could make them less common or grave. Makarenko also noted, importantly, that one could be a good citizen outside of the home but a bad influence in the home; thereby negating their good citizenship. In other words, even otherwise good communists could act as tyrants in the home, a vestige of the oppressive capitalist family structure.


Despite many implicit problems, Makarenko interestingly admitted that much of the capitalist family structures were positive, and that the communist goal should not be to do away with good things, even if they existed or arose under capitalism. That, argued Makarenko, would be frivolous and idealist. Some changes, however, were necessary.


Makarenko drew an interesting analogy: similar to how, in the transition from capitalism to socialism, the bourgeoisie lost its class dictatorship, in the transition from capitalist to socialist family structure, the father also lost his patriarchal dictatorship. Here, Makarenko also argued that the intra-family dynamic might lag behind the rapid transformation of the economic base, requiring a tremendous social effort on the part of the new civilization to overcome the old, oppressive familial dominances.


"If you are coarse or boastful at home or—much worse—if you are insulting to mother, there is no use in thinking about bringing up your children. You are already bringing them up badly and no advice will help you."

Makarenko's second lecture discussed the topic of Parental Authority. He elaborated that the Soviet family was, above all, a collective. The parents were the older and more experienced members of the collective, while the children are the younger members. Children were co-equal, but parents still held an implicit authority over children as the more experienced worker holds authority over the novice worker. More experienced workers show novices how to perform their tasks most efficiently, how to trim callouses, how to make printers work, and so on. The veteran, through their helpfulness, earns trust and earns authority, which is thus freely given by the novice, who are themselves happy to learn the easiest way to do their job.


In the family, the parent is the veteran—if parents put true effort into raising the child and into helping children with their problems, the child would naturally trust the parent and freely give them authority in the form of coming to the parent for advice, listening to parental advice, and doing reasonable things asked of them by their parents. When a Soviet citizen became a parent, Makarenko argued, they undertook something of a sacred duty from society to raise the child. This duty was the other source of the parent’s authority over the child.


But a toddler cannot comprehend this source of authority, so how does the parent establish it early? Makarenko listed nine kinds of improper ways to establish authority:

  1. By suppression: The house of yelling and cruelty. For Makarenko, suppression created a distant and deceitful child who acted only to avoid the parents’ wrath.

  2. By aloofness: The house run like a business. Calendars are organized, yet no love is shown. For Makarenko, this led to a child who ultimately deprived of their childhood.

  3. By swaggering: Parents who brag of their status or success. On this, Makarenko wrote: “Although every citizen of the Soviet Union serves [their] country, some people consider their own service specially important.” For Makarenko, this often led to a boastful child who believed they were better than others.

  4. By pedantism: Parents who are "infinitely wise" and who never make mistakes, they do not accept criticism or self-criticize. This led to an over-obedient child with no personal interest; their life was prescribed to them instead of fully lived and experienced.

  5. By reasoning: Authority based on logic and arguments, without an understanding that children are more emotional than adults and that their actions sometimes cannot be fully reasoned with. Makarenko suggested that the child of this household often ignored this method completely, becoming unruly.

  6. By love: The house where parents pamper the child with praise to manipulate them with phrases like, “if you love me, you’ll…” For Makarenko, this led to a manipulative child, deceitful, cold, and insecure. This child’s first victims were in fact the parents themselves, according to Makarenko.

  7. By kindness: “This is the most stupid kind of authority," Makarenko argued. "Obedience is called forth by kisses and flattery, by giving in, being soft and good […] Pretty soon it is the children who are dictating to the parents. Parental non-resistance opens the door wide to all the child's desires, caprices and demands.”

  8. By friendship: For Makarenko, trying to establish authority based on friendship was not inherently a bad way to go about things, but one had to remember that the parent was the veteran while the child was the novice. The friendship therefore had an implicit unequal footing of that of the mentor and mentee.

  9. By bribery: “The most immoral kind of authority exists when obedience is bought by gifts and promises," Makarenko noted on the parental bribe. He continued, "Parents say: 'If you obey, I'll buy you a toy horse. If you obey we shall go to the circus.' This type is extremely harmful, and may be the type most observed in the United States. 'If you eat broccoli, you’ll get a cookie. This teaches the child that broccoli is to be endured for the cookie. Once they can act on their own, they no longer need to endure the broccoli and can go straight for the cookie."

Makarenko's list here helps us to become more aware of how many of these shortcuts we might have employed in our own parenting. Makarenko argued that, while the above techniques might prima facie appear to work, ultimately none of these are the parent’s true source of virtuous parental authority. While it might be difficult to explain to those under a certain age, children should be led to understand, as far as they are capable, why their parents have some authority over them.


New parents in the contemporary capitalist world are not provided any sort of information on how to use authority. We are barraged with clichés which hold meaning but are incomplete and often misleading. We are given guidance from trained professionals about how much the baby should eat and sleep, how many dirty diapers they should produce, but no evidence-based guidance on helping the baby become a good person; a good citizen. Of course, a single list from the last millennium is not an authoritative guide, yet it can encourage us as communists to begin to think about our parenting.


"Do not forget that the main basis for parental authority is the life and work of the parents, their task as citizens, their behavior. If parents are living rationally, if they have clear and significant goals, if they are fully conscious of their actions, they need not hunt for any other basis or seek anything artificial. They will have authority in their family."

Makarenko’s third lecture focused on the discipline of the child. Discipline was an important topic for Makarenko, yet he approached the topic differently than many in the capitalist world. He did not focus on the parents’ reaction to misbehaving children, but instead focused on helping to instill discipline within the child to prevent misbehavior. For Makarenko, instilling discipline must be started early, and started simply. Discipline should be instilled in areas befitting the age of the child. Simple cleanliness at first, which would then advance to issues pertinent for each level of development. Instructions should never be given angrily or irritably, but they should be given firmly. Because they are firm, one should be purposeful with their words, as words were not to be hollow. For Makarenko, this meant that tasks should be clear, and that they should not be too demanding for the child. Tasks should also be reasonable; for example, we should not ask for asinine things just to instill a capitalist work ethic or because, “we said so.” Makarenko also noted that: “great care should be made to avoid contradicting the other parent’s instructions or your previous instruction.”


Makarenko continued:

"Be cautious, too, in using encouragement. It is never necessary to announce awards or prizes ahead of time. It is best to simply limit oneself to praise and approval. Childish joys, pleasures, and entertainment should come to the children not as a reward for good conduct, but in the natural order of things as the legitimate satisfaction of their needs [...] With a correct regime, punishment is unnecessary and, in general, should be avoided, as should excessive praise. It is best to rely on a correct regime and patiently await results."

He concluded here that neither punishment nor excessive reward is as effective as doing sincere and honest work as a parent and effectively encouraging good behavior by instilling good habits in the child. For Makarenko, it started simply, brushing teeth and being gentle with animals. It then became more complex with driving, romance, and class consciousness. For each, it was best to use the authority you’ve gained by being an earnest, honest, and engaged parent so that you can help them become disciplined.


Makarenko’s next lecture was on play.


"Parents often make mistakes in guiding play. Some of them are simply not interested or think that children know best how to play. Other parents pay attention at their children’ play, too much so! They interfere, point out, discuss, set problems in games and resolve them before the child does—they are enjoying themselves! [...] If the child builds something and has difficulty, father or mother sit down to them and say, 'Don’t do it that way. Look, this is how you should do it…' The child can only listen and imitate. He gets used to the idea very early that only grown-ups know how to do everything well. Such children grow up with a lack of confidence in their own strengths and failures."

There are many households where the parent does not have faith in the child’s capacity to do chores themselves, so, for example, the parent does the child’s laundry until they are 18—thereby leaving the child unprepared to leave the home and move out into adulthood. Similarly, there exist households where the parent does not have faith in the child’s capacity to play on their own. Parents constantly interrupt the child’s own play with suggestions and instructions, not realizing that children have to learn for themselves which things they like and how they work.


Makarenko claimed that too much or too little guidance during play were both problematic, yet he could not, unfortunately, provide any evidence for an ideal quantity. Raising a child requires much experimentation and when met with poor results, the parent can only try to improve in the future.


In older children, Makarenko insisted that the parents of athletically-inclined children should aim to instill pride in the child’s team, not only their own individual achievements; yet Makarenko warned that sports should not absorb the child's whole life—a lesson many in the US could take to heart. At this stage, Makarenko suggested that parents should no longer guide activities directly; rather, that they should focus on helping the child to forge healthy relationships.


In his lecture, The Family Economy, Makarenko emphasized how important it was to expose children to the honest reality of the family’s situation.


"So the family economy is the place to develop: collectivism, (i.e., real solidarity with the work and interest of other people, with the interest of society as a whole); honesty (i.e., an open sincere attitude toward people and things); are and thrift, responsibility, the ability to organize and orient oneself. The family economy must be the economy of a collective and be handled quietly without tension."

Family wealth must not be the defining factor in a child’s self-esteem. Children who placed too much weight onto wealth risked growing up as rank individualists, imbued with all of the worst features of the capitalist superstructure. For Makarenko, being a member of the healthy family economy taught the child care, thrift, responsibility, the consequences of one’s actions, and the ability to empathize with others. And, moreover, it served as practice for when the child moved out on their own; a practice which, like in play and in discipline, was (and is) sorely missing from capitalist culture, thereby leaving the child to have no understanding of family economy when they left the home.


In the lecture, Work Education, Makarenko noted again that children should not be punished for unsatisfactory work. Calm and comradely instructions to repeat or correct the work would suffice, just as one would instruct a new co-worker at their job. Similarly, like in discipline, over-rewarding jobs well done can have negative consequences, replacing satisfaction of a job well done to praise-serving:


"Work well done should be enough reward. Your approval of his inventiveness and resourcefulness must be enough recompense. But be careful not to overdo your approval. Do not praise the child for his work in front of your friends or acquaintances […] it is not necessary to punish a child for bad work or work incomplete. It is most important in such a case to see it that the work is nevertheless completed. "

On Sex Education, Makarenko’s era tells on itself, as he made claims that we would today consider quite reactionary. He argued that the point of sexual education was to teach morality and safety; two things which were achieved by "the open and civil union of man and woman, a union that has this aim: human happiness and the bearing and rearing of children."


Despite this dated and erroneous statement, Makarenko however made several good points:


"Sex education should be education for love, the cultivation of deep feeling, which beautifies the whole of life, its strivings and hopes."

Makarenko also explained how love was something that must be learned, and, as always, was the product of the child’s material conditions:

"Another important factor is the general development of the feeling of love. If the child has not learned to love his parents, brothers, and sisters, his school, his country; if crude egoism has begun to develop, it is hard to believe that he will be able deeply to love the woman he chooses."

The final lecture concerned the Development of Cultural Interests. Makarenko claimed that parents should ultimately encourage cultural interests. However, they should not do this by simply pushing interests and activities onto the child. Rather, the parent should pursue their own interests in front of the child. Do not tell the child to read, instead read in front of them, read to them, read with them. The child should witness the parents reading, going to the movies and plays, going to museums and diverse restaurants, and so on. Similarly, the parents should, in front of their children, exercise; they should have tastes and opinions. For Makarenko, a rich cultural environment in the home would encourage the development of cultural interests much more than by simple force or coercion.


Makarenko’s Lectures to Parents are hardly a comprehensive study on socialist parenting, yet reading these lectures might provide a first exposure to the idea of materialist parenting. Why, for Makarenko, was the dictum “do as I say, not as I do” useless? Because for the communist, actions are higher than words.


For Makarenko, and for socialist society more generally, the way to raise children is not through the cleverness of our words, but by the quality of our actions. Living an earnest, honest, and sincere life with our own interests, and, ultimately, trusting children as co-equals in the family collective is, for Makarenko, the most effective way to properly raise a collectivist child.


With the extant capitalist base, it is only natural that contemporary parenting styles mirror these economic relationships. Parents often act as petit-bourgeois tyrants. Upon the transition from capitalism to socialism, it is only natural that the family relationship must begin to mirror socialism. Parents will rescind the petty dictatorship and will transition to the holding of authority as the older member of the collective—the experienced comrade who thoughtfully and carefully works to advance the younger comrade.


While the transition in family structures will of course not predate the change in economic base, it can prefigure it. Through an emulation of socialist civil structures in the home, we as communists can move towards improving the family structure within capitalism; ending the patrairchal tyranny of the father over the mother and over the children; creating relationships which are not predicated on economic dependence. We, at present, live in an individualistic capitalist society; yet we can still struggle against individualism implicit within the modern family.


 

Notes

[1] Makarenko, Anton Semyonovich. "Lectures to Parents," 1937.



References

Makarenko, Anton Semyonovich. "Lectures to Parents," 1937. Published in Literaturnaia Gazetta, 1939; and in Collected Works of Makarenko, Vol. 4, 1951.

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