- The Good and the True
Part One: Pavlik
It took me many years to figure things out, but I guess I can't complain, because I finally have figured them out over the last few years, and after all I'm only in my early twenties. Many people in our society still haven't figured anything out at all. Who knows, perhaps if I explain my process a little, it may help others to achieve the same level of awareness.
When I was a little kid, the Communists still held power and we had to learn Marxist approaches to everything. I remember my old history textbook from the fourth class, when I was ten years old. By the end of the first chapter I understood exactly what they were getting at, and since my teachers had already been teaching us the same approach all along, I took it for granted that it was accurate and wondered how anyone could be so stupid as to think otherwise. So when I began the second chapter, I saw that it was just taking the same system of analysis that the first chapter had laid out so clearly and applying it to some concrete historical situations, and of course the analysis seemed completely obvious to me. I started skimming the book, looking for new thoughts or explanations, but I couldn't find any. Only the specific names, dates, and events offered anything new. I understood all the analyses in the book perfectly, even the paragraphs I barely glanced at. That was the first book I ever skimmed, leafing through to try to garner the facts and ignore the rest, not because I doubted the truth of what it said or felt disgusted by it, but just because everything seemed clear enough even before I read it.
I was in the fifth class when Gorbachev introduced Perestroika, and I found it rather [End Page 128] confusing. I already realized that our country fell short of its ideals, but that was natural at the socialist stage of development; that was why we were trying to build communism. Gorbachev clearly believed in those ideals, but he seemed to be admitting far too many failures, more than I could believe had happened in my country. And then the history teachers announced that we shouldn't read our textbooks any more. They said the books lied, including our book from the year before, in which everything had seemed so self-evident to me. Now they told us that it and all the other history textbooks in the classroom, and indeed in the entire country, contained patent falsehoods. We shouldn't even read them; the teachers would give us their own materials and tell us the truth in class. I felt utterly shocked and betrayed. I had always trusted my teachers before, and I had certainly believed everything my books said. I thought of them as my books. I felt proud to own books; they marked me as smart, mature, and intellectual. But here our teachers were declaring that we couldn't trust any history books published anywhere in the entire Soviet Union. The very concept that a book might lie astonished me. I realized that in other countries, like the United States and Israel, people wrote books solely to promote their own propaganda, but I never thought such a thing could happen in Russia.
I asked my parents who was right, the textbooks or the teachers, and why the teachers used to tell us the textbooks were right but now had suddenly changed their minds. My parents told me to listen to my teachers, but they fell short of saying that the teachers spoke truth and the textbooks lied. I asked again, and they said that different people and books sometimes had different ideas about the truth, but the real truth lay beyond all their versions, which in fact didn't matter. What mattered was that I do well in school, respect my teachers and do whatever they tell me, treat my friends well, and be a good son and grandson. After saying this, my parents assured me that I was already doing this more...