Ceremonial Opening of a Rabfak

Opening of a Workers’ Higher Education Faculty. February 12, 1919


Creating special workers’ faculties within higher education institutions was one way the Bolsheviks sought to carry through a social revolution, and was seen as an important step in preparing the proletariat to take command of their own fate. This account of the first to be established both suggests their purpose and is a typical account of the numerous public assemblies held to inaugurate new undertakings. Notable also is Timiriazev’s greeting, with its acknowledgment that most of the professorate, especially those as scientifically prominent as he, opposed these new measures.

The G. V. Plekhanov-Beltov Auditorium (formerly the Marx Auditorium) is rapidly filling with student workers. The vast room is decorated with banners, red streamers and portraits of the leaders of Socialism. The full length of the screen is covered with red cloth, inscribed with G. V. Plekhanov’s well-known words: “The revolutionary movement of Russia will triumph only as a revolutionary movement of the workers; there is not and cannot be any other outcome.” Higher up, above the screen, there is Plekhanov’s portrait. Among the masses of workers present there are many working-women. A. V. Lunacharskii, N.M. Pokrovskii and representatives of trade unions and associations are present at the opening.

Introductory Address by N.M. Pokrovskii

N.M. Pokrovskii is elected, amid a storm of general applause, as chairman of the meeting. Having extended greetings to the workers’ faculty, Comrade Pokrovskii said: “It was my chief aim during my work in the People’s Commissariat of Education to see the worker in the university. Now I see the realization of my cherished hope. We will have student proletarians, and later on professors as well, and I hope that such examples will come in tens, hundreds, and thousands.”

Then the chairman of the Organizing Committee of the Workers’ Faculty, Comrade Baer (Baganiarts) gave a short review of the birth and organization of the workers’ faculty.

Prof. Nikitinskii’s Greetings

The dean of the Institute, Prof. Nikitinskii, when greeting the opening of the workers’ faculty in the name of the teachers’ committee, said among other things: “In the past very little has been done in this sphere, consequently very much is to be done now. The success of this work can be attained on the following three conditions: 1) conscious, earnest attitude of the workers; 2) the aid of the students, who have so zealously begun this work; 3) the aid and sympathetic attitude of the professors.” Prof. Nikitinskii closed his speech with greetings to the workers’ faculty and especially to the workmen-students.

A. V. Lunacharskii’s Address

In a long, animated speech A. V. Lunacharskii pointed out that formerly the workers were merely unconscious parts of the machine. The machine, this monstrous idol, sapped all the strength out of a worker and then cast him into the street. Therefore, the worker cursed the machine, as well as science and the universities. But science was born for the purpose of freeing man from slavish labor. If capitalism made of the worker an automaton, the free worker, with the aid of science, can learn to become the director of unconscious mechanism. To be a ruling class it is not sufficient to have the power-it is also necessary to have the knowledge. This welding of economic, natural and technical science is the highway by which the workers can come to Socialism. “We will conquer and will conquer soon,” was the conclusion of Comrade Lunacharskii’s speech.

“The proletariat has nothing to lose,” said Marx, “and the world to gain.” Then Comrade Pokrovskii read the following letter sent by K. A. Timiriazev:

“Young comrades:–Old age and illness do not permit me to appear in person, but I do not wish that my absence should be taken as a sign of indifference to the first free workers’ faculty, which was my dream for a number of years.

“Science and democracy-a close union of knowledge and labor–this was my dream, cherished for several decades, and in your meeting of today I see the beginning of the realization of one of its main phases. The workers became a real, conscious, creative force; when the main conquests of science will be understood by them, and science will receive a true and stable support, then its fate will be in the hands of the enlightened people themselves and not of the kings and their slaves, though these may call themselves Ministers of Education, Academicians, and Professors.

“Pure universal science must not, cannot and will not be the exclusive monopolized property of those who are not the ‘chosen’ ones, but on the contrary, merely cast out, despised, intriguing adventurers to whom the problems of democracy are as foreign as science itself. I hail the first workers’ faculty, and wish that all who unite under this name and under the protection of the red banner of labor, equalizing all, should come here only in search of the knowledge necessary for their labor and should cast aside all formalities, diplomas and the complicated examinations, ranks and distinctions, which lower the dignity of science, as well as of democracy.

“The Red Banner’-I purposely mention these words for I know that my colleagues from the bourgeois camp cannot forgive me for having joined the forces under this banner in the days when the dark forces of the entire world have fallen upon it, hoping to drown it in blood once more. The red banner is a symbol of the future conquest of labor and science over their enemies. But what this conquest will give us will be peace, bread and freedom. Yes, and something else less noticeable, but not less important and that is–leisure, an eight-hour working day, which will be followed, of course, by a still shorter working day. The free democracy, which has won this leisure, will become an educated democracy when it comes to realize the necessity of utilizing this leisure for attaining the power of knowledge. That the free democracy will want it, that it will be able to do it is guaranteed best by today’s meeting.”

Speeches Delivered by the Representatives of the Professors

After the address delivered by the representative of the All-Russian Association of Professional Unions, Comrade Kozelev, Professors Genkin and Ugrimov delivered greetings. “Great is the power of knowledge and at no time was knowledge so necessary for any one as it is now for our proletariat, which has now placed itself at the head of the state power said Genkin. Today is our holiday of learning, our holiday of education, as this is the first time that a workers’ faculty has been organized within the walls of a higher educational institution. The meeting was adjourned after the sending of greetings to K. A. Timiriazev and with the singing of the “Internationale.”

Source: Soviet Russia 14 June 1919, pp. 15-16.

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