V. I. Lenin

What Are Our Ministers Thinking About?[4]

Written: Written at the end of 1895 for the newspaper Rabocheye Dyelo
Published: First published in 1924. Published according to a copy found in the archives of the Police Department.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 2, pages 87-92.
Translated: Yuri Sdobnikov and George Hanna, Edited by George Hanna
Transcription\Markup: D. Walters
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2000). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


Minister of Internal Affairs Durnovo wrote a letter to Procurator General of the Holy Synod[1] Pobedonostsev. The letter, numbered 2603, was written on March 18, 1895, and bears the inscription “strictly confidential.” The minister, therefore, wanted the letter to remain a strict secret. But there proved to be people who do not share the minister’s views that Russian citizens should not know the government’s intentions, with the result that a handwritten copy of this letter is now circulating everywhere.

What did Mr. Durnovo write to Mr. Pobedonostsev about?

He wrote to him about the Sunday schools.[2] The letter reads: “Information secured during recent years goes to show that, following the example of the sixties,[3] politically unreliable individuals and also a section of the student youth of a certain trend, are endeavouring to enter the Sunday schools as teachers, lecturers, librarians, etc. This concerted attempt, which cannot be inspired by a desire to earn money since the duties in such schools are undertaken gratis, proves that the activity above indicated, on the part of anti-government elements, constitutes a legal means of struggle against the system of state and public order existing in Russia.”

That is how the minister argues. Among educated people there are those who want to share their knowledge with the workers, who want their knowledge to be of benefit not to themselves alone, but to the people—and the minister immediately decides that there are “anti-government elements” here, i.e. that it is conspirators of some kind who   are inciting people to enter the Sunday schools. Could not the desire to teach others really arise in the minds of some educated people without incitement? But the minister is disturbed because the Sunday-school teachers get no salaries. He is accustomed to the spies and officials in his service only working for their salaries, working for whoever pays them best, whereas all of a sudden people work, render services, teach, and all ... gratis. Suspicious! thinks the minister, and sends spies to explore the matter. The letter goes on to say: “It is established from the following information” (received from spies, whose existence is justified by the receipt of salaries) “that not only do persons of a dangerous trend find their way into the teachers’ranks, but often the schools themselves are under the unofficial direction of a whole group of unreliable persons, who have no connection at all with the official personnel, who deliver lectures in the evenings and give lessons to the pupils on the invitation of the men and women teachers they themselves have installed there.... The fact that outside people are allowed to give lectures offers full scope for the infiltration of persons from frankly revolutionary circles as lecturers.”

So then, if “outside people,” who have not been endorsed and examined by priests and spies, want to give lessons to workers—that is downright revolution! The minister regards the workers as gunpowder, and knowledge and education as a spark; the minister is convinced that if the spark falls into the gunpowder, the explosion will be directed first and foremost against the government.

We cannot deny ourselves the pleasure of noting that in this rare instance we totally and unconditionally agree with the views of His Excellency.

Further in his letter the minister cites “proofs” of the correctness of his “information.” Fine proofs they are!

Firstly, “a letter of a Sunday-school teacher whose name has still not been ascertained.” The letter was confiscated during a search. It refers to a programme of history lectures, to the idea of the enslaving and emancipation of the social estates, and reference is made to the revolt of Razin and of Pugachov.[5]

Evidently these latter names scared the good minister so much that he very likely had a nightmare of peasants armed with pitchforks.

The second proof:

“The Ministry of Internal Affairs is in possession of a programme, privately received, for public lectures in a Moscow Sunday school on the following points:‘The origin of society. Primitive society. The development of social organisation. The state and what it is needed for. Order. Liberty. Justice. Forms of political structure. Absolute and constitutional monarchy. Labour—the basis of the general welfare. Usefulness and wealth. Production, exchange and capital. How wealth is distributed. The pursuit of private interest. Property and the need for it. Emancipation of the peasants together with the land. Rent, profit, wages. What do wages and their various forms depend on? Thrift.’

“The lectures in this programme, which is undoubtedly unfit for an elementary school, give the lecturer every opportunity gradually to acquaint his pupils with the theories of Karl Marx, Engels, etc., while the person present on behalf of the diocesan authorities will hardly be in a position to detect the elements of Social-Democratic propaganda in the lectures.”

The minister is evidently very much afraid of the “theories of Marx and Engels,” if he notices “elements” of them even in the sort of programme where not a trace of them is to be seen. What did the minister find “unfit” in it? Very likely the problem of the forms of political structure and the constitution.

Just take any geography textbook, Mr. Minister, and you will find those problems dealt with there! May adult workers not know the things that children are taught?

But the minister places no reliance on persons from the Diocesan Department: “They will very likely fail to understand what is said.”

The letter ends with an enumeration of the “unreliable” teachers at the parish Sunday school of the Moscow mill of the Prokhorov Textile Company, the Sunday school in the town of Yelets and the proposed school in Tiflis. Mr. Durnovo advises Mr. Pobedonostsev to undertake “a detailed check   of the individuals permitted to take classes in the schools.” Now, when you read the list of teachers, your hair stands on end: all you get is ex-student, again an ex-student, and still again an ex-student of Courses for Ladies. The minister would like the tutors to be ex-drill sergeants.

It is with particular horror that the minister says that the school in Yelets “is situated beyond the river Sosna, where the population is mainly the common” (o horror!) “and working people, and where the railway workshops are.”

The schools must be kept as far away as possible from the “common and working people.”

Workers! You see how mortally terrified are our ministers at the working people acquiring knowledge! Show everybody, then, that no power will succeed in depriving the workers of class-consciousness! Without knowledge the workers are defenceless, with knowledge they are a force!


[1] STRANGE: NOT IN EITHER PROGRESS PUBLISHER EDITION ... The Holy Synod–the highest administrative body of the Russian orthodox church. It also supervised the ecclesiastical educational establishments, the divinity teaching in schools, etc. It was headed by a civic Procurator-General. —Lenin

[2] STRANGE: NOT IN EITHER PROGRESS PUBLISHER EDITION ... Sunday schools–schools for adults in pre-revolutionary Russia which worked on Sundays and which people aimed to educate the illiterate and semi-literate adult people. Their organisers and teachers came from among progressive intellectuals who did this work free of charge. Revolutionary Social-Democrats used these schools for the political education of the workers. —Lenin

[3] STRANGE: NOT IN EITHER PROGRESS PUBLISHER EDITION ... Lenin refers to representatives of the revolutionary movement in Russia in the 1860s. —Lenin

[4] “What Are Our Ministers Thinking About?”—an article Lenin intended for the newspaper Rabotnik Dyelo (The Workers’ Cause). An issue of the paper was prepared by the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class by agreement wit the Narodnaya Volya group. The first issue of Rabotnik Dyelo was prepared and edited by Lenin, who wrote all the main articles, including the leading article “To the Russian Workers,” “What Are Our Ministers Thinking About?”, “Frederick Engels,” and “The Yaroslavl Strike in 1895.” Articles were also written by other members of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle, G. M. Krzhizhanovsky, A. A. Vaneyev, P. K. Zaporozhets, L. Martov (Y. O. Zederbaum), and M. A. Silvin. Lenin wrote the following regarding the first issue of Rabotnik Dyelo in his What Is To Be Done?:

“This issue was ready to go to press when it was seized by the gendarmes, who, on the night of December 8, 1895, raided the house of one of the members of the group, Anatoly Alexeyevich Vaneyev, and so the original Rabotnik Dyelo was not destined to see the light of day. The leading article in this issue (which perhaps   in some thirty years time some Russkaya Starina [The Russian Antiquary] will unearth in the archives of the Police Department) described the historical tasks of the working class in Russia, and regarded the achievement of the political liberty as the most important. This issue also contained an article entitled ‘What Are Our Ministers Thinking About?’ which dealt with the breaking-up of the elementary education committees by the police. In addition, there was some correspondence, not only from ST. Petersburg, but from other parts of Russia, too (for example, a letter about the assault on the workers in Yaroslavl Gubernia)” (see What Is To Be Done, Chapter II).

With the exception of a copy of the article “What Are Our Ministers Thinking About?“, discovered in January 1924 in the Police Department records on the League of Struggle, the manuscripts of these articles have not yet been found.

[5] Stepan Razin and Yemelyan Pugachov were the leaders of extensive peasant revolts in Russia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

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