Anatol Lunacharsky

People's Commissary of Education
of Russia
A. V. Lunacharsky, To All Who Teach

Source: The Class Struggle Vol. II, No. III, May-June 1918;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for, July 2002.


For many decades past the best of the Intelligentsia was serving the people, and was proud of its service.

It looked upon education--the awakening of knowledge among the masses--as one of its most important problems.

The best representatives of the Intelligentsia, moreover, did not consider themselves chosen wizards, bearers of a higher culture, called upon to preach to the "barbarians" some ready-made gospel.

On the contrary, from the awakened masses they looked for creative impulse, deep-rooted self-dependence, creation of a new, social, moral and artistic world.

Not small, indeed, was the influence of the educated on the awakening of the people--on the process through which the instinctive longing of the exploited for justice, was transformed into a revolutionary consciousness and an ardent social activity.

In February of 1917, the people, as if half-awake and urged on by necessity, overthrew the decayed throne and then stopped--like a semi-blind giant--not knowing what to do next.

It entrusted its fate--its triumph--to worthy fighters of the Revolution--to a large group of the best known names in the revolutionary world.

But among these representatives of the really intelligent masses, there prevailed two ideas:--first the necessity of continuing the war and, second, the necessity of a social peace with its own bourgeoisie.

Both these ideas were not of the people. But the masses were won over--in spite of as yet feeble warnings of the only party which had grasped the meaning of events--their future force--the hidden hopes of the soul of the people.

The Intelligentsia, grouped into defensive parties, hand in hand with the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, led the country along a road which brought Russia to the brink of ruin. The masses made a convulsive effort to save themselves --to save Russia and the Revolution. Yet it was not only the knowledge of the ruinous situation thus created that impelled the masses toward the third Revolution, the uprising of the 25th of October, which led to the fall of the coalition government, but also the intense desire for social justice as expressed in the wish for basic social reforms--the immediate introduction of certain beginnings of the graduated Socialist program. In Russia for the first time the masses came out independently with their own program, and the desire to take the government into their own hands.

And how did the Intelligentsia meet the heroic attempt of the proletariat to create on the brink of destruction, a strong government of the people--the attempt to organize the country, to put an end to the war?

It met this attempt with hatred. It not only refused all help to the proletariat, but it rejoiced in every conspiracy against it. It was embittered each time the young hero crushed with his triumphant heel the serpent's head. With venomous malevolence it proclaimed the weakness of the military staff of the downtrodden class and its want of officers in so many spheres.

With impatience it awaits misery. Together with Milukoff it is ready to prefer defeat to the continuance of the Revolution, and with Ryaboushinski it impatiently yearns for the gaunt hand of hunger which already grasps the throat of the people. At one time loving mankind, revolutionary, socialist, it now calls for autocracy. "Look," it exclaims, "the Great Revolution--half of Russia has been delivered by the wicked Bolsheviki into the hands of the Soviets. The Bolsheviki are traitors, provocateurs, demagogues."

And the Bolsheviki are alone with the proletariat. The heavy burden of being the intellectual representatives of the new people's regime lies alone upon their shoulders. And of course they make mistakes--and why, if they make mistakes, do you not come forward to correct them and help the country? You do not agree with the policies of the proletariat. Then--criticise them. It is not true that you have been deprived of the freedom of propaganda. The social-patriotic newspapers openly called for armed struggle against the enlightenment of the people--and yet they still continue to appear. There never was a newspaper of the Black Hundred which was so full of venom as those of the Socialists of the Right. Only men who lack all sincerity proclaim that moderate and helpful criticism is, under present conditions, impossible.

But let it pass, if in the sphere of politics the Intelligentsia can only obstruct and censure harshly and give nothing more to the proletariat and its government. What is the meaning, however, of the boycott of the country's food supply and financial mechanism?

Only to overthrow the Bolsheviks?! Let the whole world perish if in its ruins will be buried the hated "demagogues."

But we have well learnt to translate into the language of classes such antipathies. The Intelligentsia, which in neutral spheres worked together with the hangmen--Romanoffs-which led the country to ruin hand in hand with the capitalists through a protracted war, and bourgeois speculations, proved powerless to work together with the proletariat.

Is it possible that you could give your labor, thought and life for the people only so long as you acted as its guardians and could find nothing but rancorous sophisms for the proletariat when in a fateful and dangerous hour it was forced to the first revolt in Russia and the approach to power?

Is there a gulf which cannot be bridged between the petite bourgeoisie and the masses? Is the means ineffective which makes the Intelligentsia socialist only in words and in reality more sympathetic to the exploiters than to the exploited? Yes, it is so-in essence. In essence, the Intelligentsia is, as a whole, petite bourgeois. But at the same time, it is the bearer of special functions in society--it is the organ and servitor of social knowledge and consciousness. For, in the words of Lassalle, the union of science and the fourth estate is a most natural phenomenon. A real artist must be sensitive to truth, to the beauty of heroism and of the will to freedom. The teacher, the true teacher, must first of all be with the masses in all their experiences and through all their wanderings.

Is there really no hope? Will the attacks not cease? Is it possible that at the brink of the abyss when the proletariat at last with its uttermost strength, has overthrown the old regime, and the bourgeois octopus--that it will be seized by the throat by the intelligent social-revolutionist, social-democrat-menshevik, so that both they and the proletariat be thrown into their graves and the graves of their common aspirations?

You teachers--men and women--show them the example. Down with the boycott! Let us build a new school of the people. I, the people's commissary of education, do not want to force anything on you or on the schools. I say to you--away with the power of the bureaucracy! Conquer the bureaucracy! From now on the ministry (of education) is an executive organ. Let us build together a parliament of enlightenment, a vast government committee for the education of the people. With friendly efforts let us build together a commission instead of a minister--a commission which will not hinder and command but which will make the work easier and aid all healthy initiative. Let us finish the process of decentralization of schools and the transfer of their management to self-governing bodies. Can we even take count of the many problems which confront us? But they must all be decided by conferences of teachers directly with the representatives of the organized working people. I published a series of statements dealing with the basic problems of education in Russia, and lately I issued a decree of the Central Executive Committee creating a Commission of Public Education. It is possible, and very probable, that these do not meet with everybody's approval. But the statements contain my own personal views, which I intend to apply not as a leader but as a collaborator. The decree has merely a preliminary character, for some sort of an apparatus had to be created to commence the work.

I picture to myself a perspective of the following sort: The Government Committee of Public Education will meet in an extraordinary session to work out the broad democratic basis for the call of an Educational Convention of teachers and direct representatives of the organized working masses. At this convention, in a friendly and open discussion, we will elaborate the underlying principles of a new people's school in Russia and will submit these for confirmation to the constitutional convention.

We will create in the sphere of education an atmosphere of true co-operation. Here class differences do not frighten us. A sincere and true teacher yearns for that perfect school which would transform the greatest number of citizens into completely developed men. The proletariat yearns for the same.

If engineers and workers were to take up the creation of productive machines, apart from any calculations of an entrepreneur character, and guided only by the objective sign of the greatest productivity, they could no doubt co-operate without the least friction. Likewise with the schools. The people has gained its freedom. It wants more light for itself and its children. I have been called by the Congress of Soviets, which represented 15 million of the foremost citizens, to be the People's Commissary of Education. I undertake this task without any pretense or pomp but with a clear sense of responsibility, and with a readiness at the first signal from the people to give up my post and join the ranks again, and I address myself to you--you men and women teachers of Russia, to put aside the unworthy boycott, and while waiting for the day when the Constitutional Convention will establish a definite order in the matter of public education, to begin our work now.

I appeal to you for the fulfillment of the following program:--The immediate preparation for an educational congress on the most democratic lines; the realization of such congress at the very earliest opportunity; the friendly co-operation of the proletariat and the best part of the "Intelligenzia" in the creation of a united and free public school in the broadest sense of these words.

When I am writing this call to you, teachers, a new master of the land is guiding my hand--young, inexperienced, but mighty--the very same worker whom you wanted to serve. Go to his aid. He has conquered but he is alone. He is full of strength but surrounded with trouble. Glory to the one who in the heavy hour of trial by fire, will be on the side of the people--such as it is, and shame on those who forsake it.

And, remember, if the ugly revolt of the Intelligentsia against the worker were to continue, it would sow his path of suffering with only new thorns, but it will not stop the wheels of his chariot. The people are calling on you to work together to build a new school in common. If you decline it will undertake its task alone, together with its true adherents and well-wishers.

There is no return to the past.

The People's Commissary of Education,

A. V. Lunacharsky.