Heinz Neumann

The Red Students
of the Zinoviev University

(November 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 104, 29 November 1922, p. 840.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). 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.

Red Petrograd is the highest expression of the Russian Revolution. In October 1917 the weapons of hundreds of thousands of Petrograd workmen overthrew the bourgeois republic. The workers sent their best to the front during the civil war. They defeated the Cronstadt White Guards. The workers of the large factories, the proletariat of Putilov, Alexandrovsk, Treugolnik, stand today in the first ranks of the economic front.

One of the greatest creations of the Russian Revolution has sprung up on the soil of the proletarian masses of Petrograd: The Petrograd Zinoviev University. In the great industrial undertakings the workers of Petrograd work with their hands, in the mighty October celebration they take part with their whole hearts, and in the red universities they employ their brains. More than a thousand students, proletarians without exception, are occupied here with the task of absorbing the knowledge offered by modern science, and of planting the seed of proletarian culture. Not a single bourgeois, not a single intellectual. Down to the last student they are all the sons and daughters of workers, many of them have fought on three, four, or five fronts. Many have been wounded, many nave been commanders in the Red Army. All are faithful Communists.

They work just as seriously and systematically as in the highest bourgeois universities of Europe or America The requirements of the syllabus are extremely high. There is no playing at study. And the spirit pervading the work is that of the class consciousness, of the proletariat. It is not possible to enter here into details, the plan of work, the vocational technical organization of the Zinoviev University. It is only possible to give an idea of the spirit, and of some aspects, of this first proletarian university. The celebration of the 5th anniversary of the revolution afforded an insight into the mentality of the Zinoviev students.

The University building is the Tauric Palace, once used for the Tsarist Duma. At the revolution celebration all of the students, male and female, gathered together. A magnificent picture. The benches and platforms were filled, with young people from the proletariat, their ages varying from 18 to 24 years. One thousand students from the ranks of the working class. The elite of Russian working youth. The first pioneers of the work of communist culture.

They welcome the delegates of the Communist International with a jubilation very different from the customary ceremonies. These cheers, this singing of the International, are no mere formality. It is a mass manifesto, it is a form of expression of the victorious revolution, carrying everything with it in its impetuosity. The meeting is opened. The delegates of the foreign Communist Parties rise to speak. These addresses are no lectures, no propaganda speeches such as we hear at our Western European meetings. It is a dialogue between the speakers and their thousand auditors. All languages are spoken, Hungarian, Russian, English, German. Some of the Zinoviev students have already utilized the philological faculty to such purpose that they are able to follow the various foreign speeches. The others grasp the import surprisingly well, they understand the international expressions: Proletariat, Communism, Dictatorship, Revolution, Imperialism, October. They translate single words among themselves. The majority appear to follow the speaker’s train of thought. The mental atmosphere is soon such as we only experience in Western Europe in moments of great revolutionary events. The great hall is filled with the wildest enthusiasm. Exclamations, enthusiastic applause, hand clapping, cheers—almost invariably in the right places. Those who understand the foreign language set the example, all the others follow.

In conclusion the students’ band plays the International; the thousand rise to sing it. All this is a scene which we have witnessed a thousand times outside of Russia, but to which none the less there is no comparison. The difference is that there the enthusiasm is not merely instinctive, but is founded on a clear and self-acquired consciousness of the significant of the demonstration. For these red students the International, the World Revolution, and the proletarian Dictatorship, are no dreams of the future; for them these are the actualities of their life and work.

The Zinoviev students question the foreign representatives. The questions are written down and handed up to the platform. They are excellently and accurately formulated. The overwhelming majority are questions about Germany. First the overriding question: Why have the German workers not yet accomplished the revolution? But some questions formulate more concrete points: How does the German proletariat fight against Versailles peace? – What is being done to break the influence of Social Democracy?

Questions dealing with the political situation in America are directed to the American representative. Later on the delegates converge with the students. Here the enthusiasm is again not merely emotional, but intellectual. The students again put questions of amazing political clearness Here is no “herd”, no “brutal mass”; this proletarian youth has personalities and brains in its ranks. The future of the Russian revolution and of the world revolution, lies in the hands of this generation. It lies in good hands. If these children of the old revolutionary workers succeed in making their own the mighty weapon of bourgeois science, and of helping forward the masses of the peasantry with this weapon, neither world capital nor the new economic policy can endanger the Soviet Republic. This is the conscious aim of the Zinoviev students, who are only the vanguard of innumerable learners in town and country.

All students, male and female, live in the University. They form a single community. As government workers in the performance of their duties they receive board, lodging, and clothing. This red university fulfils with the greatest ease all the demands which the bourgeois school and high school reformers in western Europe are striving for in vain. Not only is the technical work most energetic, but community work has here passed from a phrase into a reality.

This is shown in the artistic activity of the Zinoviev students. They have choral societies, where they sing folk and revolutionary songs with a wonderful power. The deepest impression is made by the speaking choirs of the red students. There are no individual performances of special superiority, no virtuosi, but a splendid mass will, revealed in the varying and combined tones of the choirs. Voices of every shade of clarity or depth, voices of man and girl comrades, rhythm spoken or sung, at the end the mass intonation of a hundred voices They recite revolutionary poems; the motif is almost invariable the same, the form still somewhat uncertain, the impression most powerful. The ballad of the twelve by Alexander Bloch has never been rendered so effectively as in the speech of this mass choir. The mightiest effect is that made by a new poem, entitled Conitza, dealing with the riders of the Red Army. Single voices take the lead, the mass choir replies; through it all the ground motif is repeated again and again in deep tones by three girl comrades, three vibrating syllables: “Conitza, Conitza, cavalry, cavalry!” The dramatic might of this choir carries the thousand auditors along with it. They form a unity. No accidental theatre audience. No aesthetic narrow-mindedness. A proletarian collective, in which work, art, and politics are beginning to melt into one whole. The end of this evolution cannot be prophesied today, but its commencement is perhaps the greatest triumph of the working class.

Last updated on 3 January 2021