Narkompros, On Popular Education. November 12, 1917
Faith in education and in “enlightenment” of the people was a long-standing characteristic of Russian revolutionaries, and the importance of education to the building of the future socialist state was to be a core belief of the new government. These beliefs were affirmed during the first week, while the very survival of the new regime and its exact political nature were still in doubt, by the new People’s Commissar of Enlightenment, Anatolii Lunacharskii. Although conditions were to make immediate implementation of these ideals difficult and the next decade was to see vigorous debate about educational theory and practice, achieving general literacy and major improvement in the overall level of education were to be permanent aims of the new government.
Original Source: Zhurnal raboche-krest’ianskogo pravitel’stva, No. 3, 1 (14) November 1917.
Citizens of Russia!
By the insurrection of October 25th the toiling masses have won real power for the first time.
The All-Russian Congress of Soviets has temporarily transferred this power to its Executive Committee and to the Council of People’s Commissars. I have been appointed People’s Commissar for Education by the will of the revolutionary people.
The general direction of the people’s education, in so far as it remains with the central Government, is entrusted until the Constituent Assembly meets to the State Commission on the people’s education, of which the People’s Commissar is Chairman and Executive.
On what fundamental propositions will this State Commission be based? What determines its sphere of competence?
The General Line of Educational Activity
Every truly democratic power in a country where illiteracy and ignorance abound must, in the sphere of education, make its first aim the struggle against this darkness; it must achieve universal knowledge of reading and writing in the shortest possible time by organizing a network of schools which meet the requirements of modern pedagogy, by introducing universal, obligatory and free instruction and at the same time by setting up a series of teachers’ institutes and seminaries which will furnish in the quickest possible time the mighty army of people’s teachers which is required for the instruction of the whole population of the boundless Russian land.
But no genuine democracy can remain satisfied with mere knowledge of reading and writing, with universal elementary instruction; it must strive for the organization of variously graded absolutely secular schools for all citizens.
Our ideal is: equal and highest possible education for all citizens. So long as this is not realizable for all, the natural transition from grade to grade at school and up to the University, the transfer to a higher stage must depend exclusively on the ability of the scholar and be entirely independent of the degree of well-being of his family.
The problem of a genuinely democratic organization of instruction is particularly difficult to accomplish in a country impoverished by a long criminal imperialist war. But the working people who have seized power cannot possibly leave out of consideration the fact that knowledge will serve them as the mightiest weapon in their struggle for a better lot and for intellectual growth. However much the other sections of the national budget may have to be cut down–the cost of public education must be high: a high budget for educational purposes is the pride and glory of every nation. The free peoples of Russia will not forget this now they are in power.
The struggle against illiteracy and ignorance cannot be limited to the establishment of a regular system of school instruction for children and young persons. Adults, too, are anxious to be delivered from the low estate of persons who are unable to read or write. Schools for adults must occupy a large place in the plan of popular instruction.
Instruction and Education
The difference between instruction and education must be emphasized. Instruction is the imparting of knowledge in a completed form to the pupil. Education is a creative process. An individual’s personality goes on being “educated” all through his life, all through his life it goes on expanding, goes on being enriched, growing stronger and more complete.
The toiling masses, the workers, the soldiers and the peasants are thirsting for elementary instruction and various kinds of knowledge. But they also long for education. This no one can give them, neither the State nor the intelligentsia nor any power outside themselves. Schools, books, theatres, museums etc. can only assist them. The masses will obtain their culture themselves consciously or unconsciously. They have their own ideas created by their social environment which differs so greatly from the environment which up to now has created the culture of the ruling classes; their own ideas, their own perceptions, their own approach to all personal and social problems. The city worker according to his own fashion, the rural laborer according to his, will each form his clear world-conception permeated by the class consciousness of the workers.
There is no more sublime and beautiful vision than that of which the coming generations will be both the witnesses and the participants: the building up by collective labor of their own communal, rich and free life of the spirit. Teaching is here an important, but not a decisive factor. The criticism and the creative force of the masses is of greater consequence for it is only in some of their aspects that art and science have a universal human meaning; they suffer substantial variations with every far reaching class upheaval.
Everywhere in Russia. In particular among the town workers but also among the peasants, a powerful wave of a cultural educational movement is gathering force; workers’ and soldiers’ organizations of this kind are rapidly multiplying; to go to meet it, to support it in every way, to clear the road in front of it, this is the first task of a revolutionary people’s government in the sphere of popular education.
The State Commission on People’s Education is in no sense a central power governing the teaching and educational institutions. On the contrary the entire school system must be transferred to the organs of local self- government. Full autonomy must be given to the independent work of the workers, soldiers and peasants establishing educational class organizations on their own initiative; full autonomy, that is to say, must be given by both the State center and the municipal centers.
The function of the State Commission must be to act as a link and helpmate and to organize material, ideological and moral support on a national scale for the municipal and private educational institutions, and in particular for those of a class character established by the workers.
The State Committee for People’s Education
A whole series of valuable law projects has been worked out by the State Committee for People’s Education, since the beginning of the revolution, a truly democratic body as to its composition and rich in experienced specialists. The State Commission sincerely desires the collaboration of this Committee in its planning. It is addressing itself to the bureau of this Committee with the request for an extraordinary session of the Committee to be convened for the carrying out of the following program:
(1) Revision of the rules of representation in the Committee in the sense of its still further democratization.
(2) Revision of the Committee’s powers in the sense of their extension and of converting it into a principal State institute for the elaboration of law projects for the complete reorganization of public instruction and education in Russia on a democratic basis.
(3) The revision, jointly with the new State Commission, of the draft laws already completed by the Committee, this revision being required by the fact that in drawing them up the Committee had to take into account the bourgeois outlook of previous ministries which circumscribed its action even in this narrowed form. After this revision the draft laws will be put into effect in the revolutionary manner without any bureaucratic red tape.
The Teacher in Society
The State Commission welcomes the pedagogues to the noble and honorable work of educating the people–the masters of the country. No single measure in the sphere of people’s education should be taken by any authority without paying careful attention to the opinion of the representatives of the teaching world.
On the other hand decisions cannot by any means be arrived at exclusively through a body of specialists. This refers also to the reform of the institutions of general education.
The co-operation of the pedagogues with the social forces-this is what the Commission by virtue of its composition will aim at within the State Committee as well as in its general activity.
The Commission considers the improvement of the status of the teachers as its very first task, and above all the disinherited, but perhaps most important cultural workers-the elementary school teachers. Their just demands must be satisfied without delay and under any circumstances. The proletariat of the schools has in vain been demanding an increase of salary to 100 rubles a month. It would be disgrace to leave the teachers of the overwhelming majority of the Russian children in poverty.
The Constituent Assembly
The Constituent Assembly will soon begin its work. It alone can permanently lay down order of national social life in our country and at the same time the general nature of the organization of popular education.
Now, however, with the transference of power to the Soviets the truly democratic character of the Constituent Assembly is assured. The line followed by the State Commission relying on the State Committee will not be materially altered by the Constituent Assembly. Without predetermining it the new People’s Government considers itself within its rights in carrying out a series of measures in this sphere which aim at enriching and enlightening the spiritual life of the country as rapidly as possible.
The present work must proceed provisionally through the Ministry of People’s Education. The State Commission elected by the Soviets and the State Committee will decide upon all the necessary changes in its composition and construction. The final ordering of governmental authority in the sphere of people’s education will, of course, be established by the Constituent Assembly. Until then the Ministry must fulfill the role of leading organ for the State Commission for People’s Education and for the State Committee.
The country’s salvation lies in the co-operation of its truly democratic forces.
We trust that the united efforts of the working people and the honest enlightened intelligentsia will lead the country out of its painful crisis and through complete democracy into the realm of socialism and the brotherhood of nations.
Source: Valentin Astrov, ed. An Illustrated History of the Russian Revolution (New York: International Publishers, 1928).