O Pioneers! (East Bloc Nostalgia Edition)


Unlike those brought up in Margaret Thatcher's devil-take-the-hindmost Britain, I was fortunate to be raised in a society where solidarity and togetherness were officially encouraged from an early age. The Pioneer movement, of which I was a member, was not about indoctrinating young people with the tenets of Marxist-Leninism, as many believe, but engendering a sense of community among the nation's youth.

That's Zsuzsanna Clark, writing in the Guardian and answering rhetorical question:

"Isn't there more we can do to enable young people to come together and give service to their country?" asks [Brit Conservative leader] David Cameron. Well yes, David, there is, and we did it in "backward" socialist Hungary more than 30 years ago….

Many of the Pioneers' activities were similar to the [Boy] Scouts', but the values were more collective and they involved all children and teenagers in the country, not just a minority. Pioneer membership was an integral part of school life, not just in Hungary, but throughout the socialist bloc.

You know, I'm an Eagle Scout myself (shame, shame, I know) and goddamn it if my very first merit badge wasn't Fingerprinting! But I sure would have liked to have gotten the Family Interrogation or Eavesdropping numbers that I'm sure the Pioneers offered. And I'm sure the Order of the Arrow Cross Government was a big deal in Magyar circles, too.

Clark anticipates the reaction of "rabid anti-communists" and other critics of totalitarian societies:

Rabid anti-communists and adherents of the view that "there is no such thing as society" will no doubt sneer at what I have just described, but the Pioneer movement did create a real feeling of togetherness. Hungarians of my generation almost all look back at their Pioneer days with great affection, regardless of their views on other aspects of the socialist system.

Hey, work camps build solidarity too! Here's a news flash: My parents grew up during the Depression and they looked back at their youth with great affection, too. It's called nostalgia, and it shouldn't be confused with what some Marxists used to call objective social conditions.

Glenn Garvin explored ostalgie and remembered the good old days in the German Democratic Republic in his masterful review of Stasiland and After the Wall.

More positive, though hardly unthoughtful, views of Thatcher's devil-take-the-hindmost programme here and here.

Hat tip: Michael Moynihan of Timbro.