Comrade Pavlik: The Rise and Fall of a Soviet Boy Hero by Catriona Kelly - review by Donald Rayfield

Donald Rayfield

The Manufacture of A Martyr

Comrade Pavlik: The Rise and Fall of a Soviet Boy Hero


Granta 354pp £17.99

Every ideology needs its child martyr, preferably an adolescent butchered by his nearest and dearest for the intransigent assertion of a new faith. The Christian Church must have accumulated hundreds, and even the Nazis had Quex and Horst Wessel. It took the Soviets fifteen years after their revolution to find Pavlik Morozov, and to immortalise him, at least for the next fifty-five years, as an example to all good children and a warning to all bad parents. The story, legend or myth of Pavlik Morozov now exists in three versions. The first – official – version was developed from newspaper reports and Ogpu propaganda by a number of Soviet writers, notably Maxim Gorky, and portrays Pavlik as an enlightened and energetic youth who, for all the backwardness of his surroundings (a remote village on the borders of the Urals and Siberia), is so devoted to socialist principles that he denounces his own father for helping dispossessed rich farmers (the kulaks) and continues to harass all those who hide grain and other possessions from the State. In revenge, his own cousins and paternal grandparents waylay him in the forest, where he is gathering cranberries, and butcher him and his little brother. The local police (ordinary and secret), with the help of activists and journalists, quickly solve the crime, and hold a show trial of the murderous relatives. The murderers and their accomplices are shot. The boy becomes a secular saint.

Revolting though the saga was, it remained plausible enough not to be seriously questioned, even by those parents who from then on had to worry every night about what their child might say in school the next morning. And right until the end of the 1980s, teachers would instruct children

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