I am fond of exploring the history of things. I feel that over time, biographies of historical figures turn into myths, and their ideas morph into empty slogans - and so, we need to look elsewhere to understand what animated everyday people caught in the crosswinds of history.
I found the history of money is one such source of unvarnished insights. Another fascinating if random niche are all kinds of pop cultural detrius, such as the ideologically-tinged comic books and pamphlets produced by concerned citizens in the West shortly after World War II. The publications had one goal: to warn the youth about the nascent menace of communism.
Perhaps the best-known example of the genre is a comic book titled Is This Tomorrow?, published in 1947 by the Catechetical Guild Educational Society of Saint Paul, MN, several million copies handed out or sold. The publication, which can be read in its entirety here, is a classic tale of a depraved global conspiracy hell-bent on the pursuit of absolute power. In that sense, although it is told for more noble reasons, the story is no different from the tales weaved by any despot trying to dehumanize an enemy - and is certainly not too distinct from how the Soviets portrayed the West. If there's one thing to say about it, it's just how familiar it feels: many of the anxieties voiced in the comic book still haunt the political discourse today.
But then, there is a more esoteric title to consider: Blood is the Harvest, a far less successful book published by the same organization in 1950. Its cover, portraying the execution of a peasant family at the hands of Soviet soldiers, has gained some minor notriety on the Internet. Its contents, on the other hand, remained a mystery: only about 25 known copies survive to this day, and no scans of the contents were to be found online.
I took it upon myself to procure a copy and photograph the book - and after investing more time and money than I'm willing to admit, I'm happy to report back. As it turns out, the book is quite interesting and unique: the story is far more intimate than the global communist mayhem of Is This Tomorrow?. It deals with the now largely forgotten legend of Pavlik Morozov, a Soviet youth and a member of the Young Pioneers (a state-run equivalent of the Boy Scouts). As the official story went, Pavlik (rightfully!) reported his father's anti-communist tendencies to the Soviet secret police and thus condemned the parent to death. For this good deed, the boy was supposedly murdered by the demented members of his own family. The tale of his martyrdom served to teach Soviet children about the importance of putting the interests of the state ahead of one's own - no matter the price.
The comic book simply retells the official story of Pavlik, but does so in a way that portrays him not as the resolute young socialist born to reactionary freeloaders, but as a misguided and brainwashed kid who made a terrible mistake. The storyline is still rather heavy-handed and succumbs to the temptation of portrarying all villains as cartoonish - but then, such are the laws of comic books.
So, without further ado, for the first time on the Internet:
The story of Pavlik - in its Soviet and American retellings - is not something you find out about in a typical textbook, even though it served as a powerful and wacky didactical tool on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Much is lost when the history is taught with a singular focus on the heads of state and the deeds they carried out in their lives.
A downed statue of Pavlik, somewhere in the former USSR.
There are quite a few other titles in this genre; in addition to the aforementioned and well-documented Is This Tomorrow?, there's The Red Iceberg, Two Faces of Communism, How Stalin Hopes We Will Destroy America, The Truth Behind the Trial of Cardinal Mindszenty, The Plot to Steal the World, America Under Socialism, and more. Most of them are quite obscure, but I managed to preserve quite a few here.
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