The Communist

The First Workers’ University

Source: The Communist, December 23 1922.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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.

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. 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.

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 have 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.

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 addressee 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 utilised 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. 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 for which none the less there is no comparison. The difference is that there the enthusiasm is not merely instinctive, but founded on a clear and self-acquired consciousness of the significance 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 leading 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 the 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 converse 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 songs and revolutionary songs with a wonderful power. The deepest impression is made by the choirs of the red students.

There are no individual performances of special superiority, no virtuosi, but a splendid mass will, revealed to 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.

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 he prophesied to-day, but its commencement is perhaps the greatest triumph of the working class.