Lenin on the Most Important of the Arts

Vladimir Lenin, Directives on the Film Business. January 17, 1922


The possibilities of cinema as a propaganda, agitation, and educational tool in a country of widespread illiteracy intrigued the Soviet leaders. Their fascination with new technology in general probably contributed as well. Lenin dictated this note to the Commissariat of Education, which was responsible for the cinema, with a request that it draw up a program of action based on his directives. In February, Lunacharsky had a conversation with Lenin in which, by the former’s recollection, Lenin made his oft quoted statement “that of all the arts the most important for us is the cinema.”

Original Source: First published in Kinonedelia No. 4 (1925).

The People’s Commissariat for Education should organize the supervision of all film showings and systematize this business. All films shown in the RSFSR should be registered and numbered at the Commissariat for Education. A definite proportion should be fixed for every film-showing program:

a) entertainment films, specially for advertisement or income (of course, without obscenity and counter-revolution) and

b) under the heading “From the life of peoples of all countries”–pictures with a special propaganda message, such as: Britain’s colonial policy in India, the work of the League of Nations, the starving Berliners, etc., etc. Besides films, photographs of propaganda interest should be shown with appropriate subtitles. The privately owned cinemas should be made to yield a sufficient return to the state in the form of rent, the owners to be allowed to increase the number of films and present new ones subject to censorship by the Commissariat for Education and provided the proper proportion is maintained between entertainment films and propaganda films coming under the heading of films “From the life of peoples of all countries,” in order that film-makers should have an incentive for producing new pictures. They should be allowed wide initiative within these limits. Pictures of a propaganda and educational nature should be checked by old Marxists and writers, to avoid a repetition of the many sad instances when propaganda with us defeated its own purpose. Special attention should be given to organizing film showings in the villages and in the East, where they are novelties and where our propaganda, therefore, will be all the more effective.

Source: V. I. Lenin, Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1934), Vol. XLII, pp. 388-389.

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