- Time in 1:72 ScalePlastic Historicity of Soviet Models
A scale model of Lenin’s car will be a perfect addition to your school’s technology corner or Soviet history room.—Article from a Soviet technical journal
It is a grand attempt to overcome the wholly irrational character of the object’s mere presence at hand through its integration into a new, expressly devised historical system: the collection.—Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project
When the Soviet government ordered the construction of the national exhibition center in Moscow in 1935, it was initially conceived as a showcase of Soviet agriculture and was named, accordingly, the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. Two decades later, with the dawn of the space era and the rapid industrialization and urbanization of Soviet society, this focus on agriculture no longer seemed relevant, and in 1959, the exhibition center was renamed the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy (VDNKh). As part of this reorientation of the Soviet national exhibition, a pavilion that had previously been devoted to bog peat was renamed Young Technical Designers (Iunye tekhniki) and started featuring the craftsmanship produced by schoolchildren’s extracurricular hobby groups (kruzhki) and centers of young technical designers (stantsii and kluby iunykh tekhnikov), such as hand-built vehicles and agricultural equipment, scale models of ships and planes, and designs of existing and future spacecraft. [End Page 69]
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The allocation of a special pavilion at the Soviet national exhibition to “young technical designers” highlighted the importance that Soviet education officials gave to extracurricular activities of school-age children. The Department of Extracurricular Education was established within the People’s Commissariat of Education of Soviet Russia as early as November 1917. In 1952, the Council of Ministers of the USSR passed a resolution that harmonized the networks of extracurricular clubs and centers. Over the course of the decades that followed, palaces and houses of Young Pioneers, centers of young technical designers, school hobby groups, and other forms of extracurricular activities sprang up all over the Soviet Union.1 In 1988, there were 464,384 extracurricular clubs and centers in the Soviet Union, or roughly four times the number in 1950. The official statistics claimed that 7.5 million schoolchildren attended them, with technology-related clubs and groups being the most popular (2,132,659 children).2 According to the 1989 Soviet census, the number of schoolchildren (aged 7–17) in the USSR exceeded 45 million, which means that approximately one in every six Soviet school-age children attended extracurricular activities at any given time.3 Given high turnover rates, the proportion of Soviet students who at some point in their education enrolled in hobby groups was considerably higher, in particular in urban centers.4
The development of extracurricular technical activities served a pragmatic function: the incorporation of labor into the productive forces of the Soviet economy. The idea of spreading technological literacy among schoolchildren was, in fact, borrowed from late imperial pedagogy: in particular, from [End Page 70] the works of Evgenii Medynskii, a prominent theorist of extracurricular education who continued to work under the new authorities.5 During the 1920s and especially the 1930s, technological literacy became increasingly associated with one’s civil obligation to serve the national cause in peace and in war.6 The Young Technical Designers Pavilion reflected the post-Stalinist development of this political fantasy of schoolchildren’s contribution to the national economy, which was also prominently featured in educational theory and—hardly surprisingly—Soviet teen science fiction.7 At the official level, Leonid Brezhnev emphasized in a speech to the 16th Congress of the Komsomol that its leaders should “develop the scientific and technological creativity of working youth” as a prerequisite for the evolution of socialism into communism.8 This logic, which treated extracurricular activities of schoolchildren as viable assets of national development, placed them in the context of the Cold War competition between ideological blocs. For Soviet officials and education theorists, youth mastery of technology was a way to secure the USSR’s position at...