The Work of the Commissariat of Education
By A Lunacharsky
(Report to the Central Executive Committee by A. Lunacharsky, Commissar of Education.)
The work of popular education, from the very moment when it was called into being by the November Revolution, was immediately confronted with great difficulties which can be classified into three most important groups In the first place, a radical transformation of the old school was an imperative necessity, For the old school was a political school, definitely dominated by the cultural and political spirit of the bourgeoisie and gentry , of czarism and the clergy, This was the first difficulty, since there are very few works on the Socialist school in world literature. As far as theory is concerned, we had to deal in this case with an almost unexplored field. What source of light did we have to guide us on the untrodden paths? A page and a half written by Marx in his youth for the Geneva Congress, and a few scattered phrases! Instruction in the old school had, of course, something in common with education, but the school was founded on principles which aimed to give this education with a mixture of pseudoeducation, with subjects harmful in so far as they were useless but consumed a great deal of time, or with clear corrupt subjects, such as religious instruction. While in the secondary and higher schools the minds of the students were poisoned with distorted science, the teachers in. the elementary schools were torn between two incompatible tasks — to teach literacy and yet to leave the pupils in complete ignorance. We undertook to eradicate these vices, and we put forth the idea of the general school.
We instituted the single labour school which was to lead everyone, irrespective of origin, through all the school grades. And we made the schools popular, within reach of alL This meant not only free tuition, but also breakfast and lunches at the school free school supplies etc. We had to g even further, to furnishing shoes and clothing. We wanted the people to know what the Soviet power was bringing. For we have a reply to all superficial attacks, that we "promised this or that, but did not fulfil it”. We reply: we wou!d have accomplished it if we were not diverted by the attempts to strangle us. Formally, the school net of Russia is growing rapidly. The old school buildings are in horrible condition, are badly in need of repairs Many school buildings in the cities have been taken over for hospitals or military institutions. As soon as we have a sufficient number of schools we will immediately make school attendance obligatory. The single school does not mean a uniform school. The single school is one which gives equal entrance rights to all, and equal rights after graduation. But we proposed at the same time, that the schools, particularly the secondary schools, should be of different kinds. We deemed it possible, and even recommended that the higher classes of the secondary schools should have two or three divisions, so that the pupils could choose one or another specialty according to their inclinations.
Owing to the categorical demand of our economic commissariats we were compelled to allow pupils over 14 years of age to transfer from a general school to a trade or technical school. We have these trade and technical schools, in addition to the schools of general education. Along with this we improved the schools by eliminating the useless subjects, such as ancient languages and religious instruction, by doing away with separate schools for boys and girls, and, lastly, by abolishing the old school discipline
But the newest feature, which even some of our cultured comrades do not yet fully comprehend, is the principle of the so-called school of labour. This term was in many cases completely misunderstood. It was taken to mean that theoretical instruction and books should be completely excluded from the school, and that they should be replaced by productive toil in form. In reality we did not at all intend such a transformation of the schools. Essentially, the principle of the labour school includes two main ideas. The first contends that knowledge should come through toil, that the children should through their own activity discover and reproduce what they learned from books. Using at first the play instinct, the games should be made more and more serious, and, finally, the pupils should be familiarized with the subjects of their studies through excursions, observations, and so forth.
In this way may be learned the whole history of human toil. In connection with this, the technical side, say, of the organization of a factory, may also be taken up, starting with the delivery of fuel, of raw materials, of the basic types of motors, etc. It would also be possible in this way to introduce the principles of labour discipline. We can thus ignore the nature of the erstwhile capitalist System and turn directly to the present system. We have never given up this idea, for the school of labour of the industrial type is the only communist school.
And now for the elementary schools. Most of the elementary schools are situated in the villages, and productive toil in these must be of a somewhat different character from that in the secondary schools. There should be moderate self-service in these, for instance, keeping the school in order. With regard to these schools I feel that we must welcome them, and in the villages we must also see to the development of their agricultural aspect. With respect to this we have already taken energetic steps, and have tried to come to some understanding with the Commissariat of Agriculture in regard to the mobilization of agricultural experts, of whom we have but a small number, to provide instruction in agriculture for the village school teachers, the majority of whom have no such knowledge.
Our village school teachers have absolutely no knowledge of agriculture. At present steps have already been taken to improve this condition. Every fall and spring, new schools and lecture-courses for teachers are opened to instruct them in the principles of toil in elementary schools. In this respect the Commissariat of Education has already some achievements to its credit. We have data showing that the mass of our teachers, with very few exceptions, have become adherents of the Soviet power, have renounced sabotage and are working with the Soviets. At all the congresses of school teachers you will find just as much enthusiasm as in our factories and workshops. They are eagerly following the instructions and directions coming from the centre.
I will quote to you some figures which illustrate the school situation in a general way. In 1911, the last year for which complete statistical data are available, there were 55,846 elementary schools. In 1919 we had 73,859 such schools, that is, we increased their number almost 50 per cent. And for the present year their number has increased to about 88,000. These schools take care of about 60 to 65 per cent of the total number of children in Russia. The actual school attendance was not high, owing to the terrible conditions last winter, but on the whole it extended to 5,000,000. The number of pupils increased very rapidly. The schools under the czar could only take care of three and a half million children, while our schools take care of five and a half million.
The number of second grade schools increased very little, because we cannot open new schools. The total number is 3,600. We have about half a million pupils in second grade schools, which is only seven to eight per cent of the total number of children of this age. In this respect the situation is extremely bad. Even if we would exclude all the children of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, even then, the vast majority of the children of the workmen and peasants would be left outside of these schools. It is disgraceful, and we must candidly admit it; we are forced to open two-year schools for children to give them at least some education, so that this generation may not be condemned to utter ignorance.
The figures on the training of a teaching-staff are very eloquent. Immense energy was displayed, but it must be remembered that we cannot rapidly increase the number of teachers, even though we have drawn into this work a large number of persons who were excluded from this profession under the czar. There were 21 higher pedagogical schools under the czar, while we have 55. The total number of schools increased considerably, and the number of students rose from 4,000 to 34,000. I can tell you that of these 34,000 — under present terrible conditions when people are condemned to starvation, and when such studies can be undertaken only by those who have not been coddled and have not been drawn into service in some other Soviet institution — we have 10,305 persons who are so completely and diligently devoting themselves to school-work that they have proven themselves deserving of social insurance (scholarship), which is given under the strictest control, and cannot be obtained by those who do not merit it We have thus achieved a certain degree of success in this respect. But we must accomplish a great deal more than this. We need an enormous army of teachers. We have 400,000 educational workers, and we need more than a million.
Besides we also have kindergartens. Colossal efforts have been made in this direction, and we are inclined to be proud of this. It should, however, be mentioned that under the czar nothing had existed in the field of pre-school endeavour. I do not speak here of the few kindergartens, model homes for children, of a certain number of charity institution which were established in large cities by rich merchants, and several schools of the Froebel type for children of the rich.
In 1919 we had 3,623 kindergartens and about 1,000 kindergartens are being added every year.
I shall now turn to the higher schools. These present an even more difficult task than the secondary schools. For some time the professors were with our enemies. The students took part in insurrections against us, and the professors participated in all kinds of plots. Every time that the Whites appeared at Samara or Saratov the professors were their main support. They sent statements abroad vilifying us. And when we came to them they hid in a shell. But the professors are indispensable, and we are confronted in this respect by a problem similar to that presented by the military department. Comrade Trotsky was right when he said that no army was ever betrayed as much as the Red Army. But the Red Army was nevertheless successful. This is also the case in the higher schools. A change is already taking place, and not solely through the appointment of new men. I could mention a large number of distinguished men — I do not speak here of our splendid friend, the deceased Timiriazev, whose clear views and perspicacity were amazing — I could mention a score of scientists who have really become Soviet adherents. In Petrograd the effect was soon visible. The scientific life of Petrograd has risen. The same effect occurred among the students. Petrograd sets the pace. The first students conference was held there, and after listening to a brilliant report by Zinoviev, a definitely "red" resolution was adopted by an enormous majority.
And now for the labour colleges! At present we manage them in such a way that they are open only to workers who are recommended by labour organizations. We take them into the school, and to a certain extent we subject them to rigid discipline. The students of a labour college have no right to miss any lecture without serious causes, and they must pass examinations to prove efficiency in their studies.
At present the standard of the labour colleges is quite high, and they are already very promising. But our experience with labour colleges taught us a great deal with regard to the universities in general. Under pressure from the economic commissariats the department of technical and trade education proposed raising the educational level of the workers. With this end in view, a large number of night courses for workmen were opened. Simultaneously, we took the question of the necessity of increasing the number of middle and higher engineers. We inquired about the number of engineers necessary, and the Council of National Economy made very serious demands upon us. According to its calculations the schools must give 3,600 new engineers each year. To satisfy this need of the country, the Department of Technical Education decided, first of all, to obtain the right to free engineering students of the last two years from all outside work, to provide them with rations, and to feed their professors, but at the same time to place them under military discipline and punish them as deserters if they did not attend to their work. These measures are of course extraordinary, but they are dictated by present conditions, and thanks to them we graduated over 3,000 engineers this year. We know that we need physicians as well as other specialists, and we have therefore also decided to assure food to all the collaborators in the medical colleges, with the result that the number of students has increased threefold.
The czarist government looked upon the universities as explosive centres, but we have nothing to fear from them, and we go on opening new universities. Thus we have already 21 universities instead of 15. Of the new universities, three or four may be considered to be functioning normally. The Turkestan and Ural universities, which are still in the process of organization, will, in the near future, be in a position to do effective work. We have, just as before the Revolution, four medical universities and three archaeological universities. Of veterinary institutes we have six instead of two. The number of professors has increased to 1,644, because we have promoted all the lecture-instructors to the rank of professors.
I will now speak of the work outside of the schools, which is of vast importance. All of you know that we cannot at present do much in the publishing field. In library work we make use of old books, enriching the school libraries and the general libraries from the stock that we have obtained from the book-stores and from the liquidation of the landlords libraries, which were practically useless. The number of libraries in Russia has greatly increased, and they grow with incredible rapidity. In the Tver Province, for instance, there are over 3,000 libraries. Some provinces have over 1,000 libraries. The total number of libraries in 30 provinces was 13,500 in 1919, and in these same provinces we now have about 27,000 libraries, not including reading rooms. The increase in the number of libraries is astounding, and I might add that the library attendance, considering present conditions, is no less astounding. However, in the matter of supplying the libraries in the future we are up against great difficulties. One of the greatest of the Soviet decrees is the decree on the liquidation of illiteracy. In the province of Cherepovetz 58,000 persons have already passed through the schools for illiterates, in Ivanovo-Voznessensk, 50,000 persons. In the city of Novozybkov there are no more illiterates above the age of 40. In Petrograd also there will soon be no illiterates. We have not enough reading primers. However, at present 6 and a half million primers have already been printed or are on the press.
A special resolution which I proposed two years ago at the Eighth Congress, and which was then adopted, stated that the People's Commissariat of Education should, under the present conditions, be an organ of Communist education, and that the Commissariat of Education, and the Party should be closely connected, since this Commissariat is an organ of education and since education must mean Communist education. And to the extent to which the Party carries on propaganda and agitation it should make full use of the apparatus of the People's Commissariat of Education. But we made very slow progress in this direction, and the Commissariat of Education suffered thereby. Vladimir Ilyich (Lenin) has many times pointed out the plain duty of the party to attract the teachers, as they come nearer to us, to educational and political work; and to compel those teachers who do not come nearer to us to read the decrees and to spread our literature. A good start was then made by the extra-mural division. The extra-mural division was instructed to organize, conjointly with the provincial party committees, courses on the struggle with Poland. This was an absolutely new thing, because the extra-mural teachers had to undertake work of a new type in co-operation with the Party and under the direction of party members, to present the history of Poland, the present social order of Poland, the causes of the war with Poland, etc.
In this respect we had considerable success which proves that when the Party supports us we can accomplish a great deal of work, considerably more work than without such support. Indeed, in this work we made a discovery. In 29 provinces, in each of which we opened a school, we passed 2,381 agitators in one month, specialists on the Polish question, and all these agitators were assigned by the Party to the front or for work in the interior. As a further illustration of my thought, I will point out how energetically the sub-divisions of the Commissariat of Education work when they have the support of the Party. Thus, for instance, when it was decided to open new educational institutions in honour of the Third Internationale, when this slogan was issued with Comrade Kalinin's and my own signature, the results exceeded all our expectations. We were able to achieve unprecedented results in the sense of opening new educational institutions. We had demanded that these institutions be situated in equipped buildings and that they be provided with school supplies. And we now have 23 schools, 164 homes for children, 20 kindergartens, etc. In short, 316 educational institutions sprang up like mushrooms. They all bear the name of the Third Internationale, and this has immense propaganda value.
I shall mention another important step. In the first place, we have just now been entrusted with the food campaign. We ourselves offered to carry on this campaign by means of placards, theatrical performances, literature, and agitation of a scientific character. We threw our extra-mural and school forces into the mass of the peasantry, and have thus helped the Commissariat of Food in its struggle for the grain quotas. We have achieved a number of concrete results in this respect. But one of the most pleasant results is the fact that we now have textbooks which will be a great help in the work of training agitators. With the aid of the Central Committee of the Party a book of 200 pages was written set in type, put on the press and printed — all in eight days. This shows what we can do if we but will it
One of the brightest aspects of the activity of the Commissariat of Education was manifested in the care of art monuments and museums. In particular, amazing work has been done in the field of repairing antique buildings. There has been a large increase in the number of museums. At present there are 119 provincial museums, as against 31 of the old regime. Even the museum experts declare that they are amazed and fascinated by the eagerness to collect and to preserve antiques which is shown by the mass of the people of Soviet Russia and by all the organs of the Soviet power. The Hermitage has been enlarged to one and a half times its previous size.
Then comes the division of music. The number of schools has remained the same, but the schools were reorganized, and the number of students has increased. About 9,000 persons above the age of 16 are now studying music.
In the theatrical field we have accomplished great work, but to breathe in new life means to get a new repertoire. The new theatre will be created by new dramatists. In this respect the only thing to do is to write new plays. For the present we have removed from the theatres the objectionable elements.
I once asked Comrade Guilbeaux how many peasant theatres there are in France. In all of France there are only 113 peasant theatres, while in the province of Kostrorha alone we have 400 peasants theatres and throughout Russia there are 3,000 peasant theatres.
The entire People's Commissariat of Education, with its teachers and educators, is at present inspired by a strong desire to work, and is on the right path for this work. Therefore, if the Commissariat is given support great activity will be shown, and I am sure that the work will not be worse than in any other department. I hope that this report will mark a turning point. If we prove that under such difficult conditions the Communists, the Soviet power, does not overlook the work of education, and that we can even effect important achievements, I assure you that this will mean a colossal victory against our enemies and among our friends. In the field of education we must therefore display the maximum effort, and I hope that you will not reject my proposals
Izvestia, October 5, 1920.
SOVIET RUSSIA November 27, 1920
The Soviet Power and the Preservation of Art
By A. Lunacharsky
Among the many calumnies that are spread concerning the Soviet power, I am made particularly indignant by the report appearing in American newspapers to the effect that we are guilty of vandalism toward museums, palaces, country homes of landed proprietors, and churches, which constitute important monuments of antiquity and frequently have a unique art value.
We can deny these accusations with pride and firmness, for we have accomplished marvels in protecting such monuments. Of course, I do not maintain that individual objects of art have not been destroyed in the course of the Russian Revolution. We have been informed of certain country Beats that have been burnt down, libraries destroyed, of collections scattered, and similar incidents, but surely it will be understood that such a mighty upheaval as the revolution could not proceed without some excesses, and we must call the attention of the imperialists to the fact that during the war that was staged by the "most civilized" bourgeois armies, human property in the occupied regions was destroyed in incomparably greater measure than in our country.
In Russia this phenomenon was of temporary nature and lasted only till the moment the Government took the reins into its hands. At present, not only in Petrograd and in its environs, where immense treasures of this kind have accumulated, not only in Moscow and in the palaces situated in the environs of Moscow, which also are unique in their class, but also in the provinces, often even in the most remote corners, we find representatives of the "Section for the Protection of Monuments of Antiquity and Objects of Art"; these representatives, with the aid of educated peasants and workers, carefully guard such property of the people as has artistic value.
American newspapers have dared to speak of plundering and disorder in the imperial palaces. I should be very happy to be able to show some foreigners what is actually being done at present in these palaces - and we did to be sure pass through a serious period when all sorts of armed forces were making Gatchina and Tsarskoye Seloe unsafe, when there were no supervising organs in Petrograd at all. Under these circumstances it necessarily appeared to be a hopeless undertaking to protect the treasures of the palaces and museums which are of immeasurable value even if considered only from a material standpoint. The task was rendered more difficult by the fact that many palaces, particularly the Winter Palace, had cellars that were chock full of wine, brandy and cordials. We were obliged to destroy these stocks of liquor ruthlessly, as the excesses of drunkenness would otherwise have spread to the Hermitage* (* The Hermitage, one of the most famous museums of Europe, was built in 1840-1852 by the architect, Von Klenze, and contains valuable collections of sculpture, coin, weapons, etc. The gallery of older European painting is particularly noteworthy.) and to the halls of the Winter Palace, and might have caused unheard of damage. There is terrible temptation in alcohol, and I remember one good soldier of the Pavlovsky regiment who, together with certain other guards, had not been able to refrain from tasting the wine, hundreds of thousands of bottles of which he was guarding; in extenuation of his act he later said to me: "Put me alongside of an open chest of gold, and I will not touch it; but it is impossible to stand alongside of this wine," And yet we have managed, by destroying this wine, by applying the severest measures,.to prevent the misfortune that was threatening. If you enter the Winter Palace or the Gatchina Palace today, and find any traces of destruction in these places, you may be convinced that they are traces of the period when Kerensky and his young imperial cadets and Cossacks were still carrying on there. But there are practically no such scars remaining; we have already healed them.
As for the museums, they are in excellent order, in the hands of the best custodians. The muse ums have been much enriched by transferring to them works of artistic and historic value, of the most varied kinds, from private palaces and estates. While the best pictures of the old Hermitage were transferred to Moscow by Kerensky and are there waiting, packed in their crates, for the day when we may feel absolutely safe in Petro grad, the apartments of the Hermitage are being filled anew with wonderful works of art, partly purchased, partly taken from private store rooms, which were formerly inaccessible to the public, and which now are being exhibited there. What marvellous works have been discovered and, at present, exhibited to the masses of the people and to school children in the palaces of Yussopov, Stroganov, and elsewhere!
The palaces themselves are devoted by us to the most varied purposes. Only a few among them, such as the artistically uninteresting Anichkov Palace and the Marinsky Palace, have been placed at the disposal of the authorities. But the Win ter Palace has been transformed into an art palace. In its magnificent salons, constructed by Rastrelli and his pupils, you will always find a crowd of people listening to excellent music per formed by the State orchestra or the State brass band, or enjoying cinematographic exhibitions or special dramatic performances.
One exhibition here follows upon another; some of them have really been magnificent both in the number and beauty of the works exhibited. It is our effort to make both the exhibitions and the museums real sources of culture, by combining them with lectures and attaching instructors and guides to every group of visitors. By separating certain collections of moderate size from the museums, and establishing separate exhibitions, such as Buddhist religious art, or the funeral customs or funeral superstitions of the Egyptians, we create a splendid means of object instruction, and such exhibitions are visited in our much tried Petrograd by masses of interested persons.
Other palaces have been entirely transformed into museums: particularly the gigantic Palace of Katherine at Tsarskoye Selo, and the Alexander Palace nearby. The entire history of the autocracy is here presented to the eyes of the workers and the young people who come to this place from Petrograd in streams; who walk through the parks that are century-old, and then enter this palace which is kept in apple-pie order. We are successfully pursuing the aim of carefully preserving against damage, in spite of this mass attendance, not only the walls, furniture, and art works, but even the interesting mosaic floors, to preserve which we go so far, where we have not had enough protecting runners, to provide visitors with special canvas shoes to be put on over their boots. This practice inspires the visitor, no matter how little he may be accustomed to such surroundings, with the feeling that he is face to face with the property of the public, which must be guarded by both state and public with the greatest care.
In the Palace of Katherine he beholds the bizarre and heavy magnificence of the period of Elizabeth, and the graceful and pleasantly harmonious splendour of the epoch of Katherine II. This civilization of the imperial masters, who were the finest architects, decorators, and masters in porcelain, bronzes and tapestry, appears to attain its culmination during the reign of Paul, with its incomparable perfection in works of the First Empire.
The neighbouring Pavlovsk is the best monument to the taste of that epoch. The excellent choice of art works constituting its equipment, as well as the admirable decoration of its salons, make Pavlovsk an incomparable structure, the like of which is hardly to be found anywhere in Europe.
But this art epoch has also left attractive traces in the Great Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. Utilizing the labour power of their serfs, the Ozars, standing in proud seclusion at the head of their nobility, were able to exploit all Europe's treasures, alternating the Asiatic luxuriousness of their Moscow ancestors with the excessive refinement of the works of European culture.
Under Alexander I, taste goes down. In his empire we find a certain coldness, which is not, however, without impressiveness. It is the reflection of the Napoleonic imperialism of Russia, with its serfdom.
And then look at the apartments of Alexander II, distinguished, commodious, with a touch of English bourgeois taste, devoid of ostentation - these are the studies and drawing rooms of a British gentleman, a wealthy country squire. And suddenly we have Alexander III before us, a curiously awkward, pseudo-Russian style, a splendour chiefly distinguished by its material wastefulness. This decline is already noticeable under Nicholas I, with its heavy bronzes, with its second-rate Paris trinkets, products of the Second Empire. But the coarse, quasi-Russian style of Alexander III adds an element which brings us back to Asia. Only with the utmost effort can we here discern a glimmer of true art. All of the objects are chosen for their cost, their display, their glaring and striking effects. You feel that the nobility has out lived its usefulness and is no longer the head of society, not even in the field of material civilization, not even in its house furnishings. They are already adapting themselves to the practice of living in ugly dwellings, calculated only to impress their subjects with spacious splendour and gilt and tinsel. We already feel that the autocracy is maintaining itself with difficulty, and no longer has confidence in itself; it seeks to dazzle the eye, and fails in the attempt; therefore its effort for enormous dimensions and outrageous cost of material.
If we have already witnessed a rapid drop in taste, proceeding step by step, from Alexander I to Nicholas I, from the latter to Alexander II, then to Alexander III, we behold a veritable collapse into the abyss when we gaze at the tasteless chambers of Nicholas II. What a conglomeration of things! A gaudy cotton print with photographs attached, as minute as in the attic room of some millionaire's maid. Here is a Rasputin alcove, decorated with gilt images of saints; here are curious little tubs, huge divans, and very peculiarly decorated "dressing rooms", which arouse in us a suggestion of gross animal sensuality; you find furniture of the worst factory taste, furniture such as could be found in the rooms of suddenly enriched parvenus, who will buy any sort of "furniture" that suits their unbridled taste. We find here a curious combination of two tendencies - the repulsive lack of taste of a degenerate Russian nobleman, and the not less repulsive lack of taste of a German philistine woman.
And yet we are speaking of the descendants of imperial dynasties! No one can free himself from the thought, even if his attention is not called to it - that the dynasty was going down, morally and aesthetically, with breathless rapidity. Our artists proposed to preserve undisturbed all the chambers of Nicholas II as models of bad taste; we have done this, for this ramble through the past, the most recent past, the period of the collapse of the Romanovs, is really a marvellous object lesson in Czarist kulturgeschichte, especially if it is aided by a preparatory lecture. Gatchina provides much instructive material in this connection. But I fear that General Yudenich and the English bearers of culture who accompanied him have inflicted great damage upon the palaces which we so carefully protected, and which are so popular with the masses of the people, now that they have been transformed into museums. At Moscow, the Kremlin is visited by many traveling parties. This set of buildings, with the exception of a few that are occupied by government establishments, has now become one gigantic museum of instruction, including also the churches.
The country seats surrounding Moscow are being carefully preserved by us. But, whenever their totality does not represent a unified whole, everything that has artistic and historical value is re moved from them - also from the monasteries - and transported to other museums which have been added to Moscow's attractions. The palaces which are valuable for their architecture, such as Archangelskoye and Ostankino, are even in our hard times places of pilgrimage for all those who wish to delight their eyes with unified monuments of the period which was so "glorious" for our nobility, the period when that nobility exploited and destroyed entire generations of its slaves, but was at least clever enough to live elegantly and to ac quire in western Europe, in exchange for floods of Russian workers' sweat, objects worthy of decorating such fine structures.
In a country passing through a revolutionary crisis, in which the masses are naturally inspired with hatred against the czars and masters, and in voluntarily transfer this hatred even to their dwellings and furnishings, without being able t judge the artistic and historic value of these things, since these same masters and czars had permitted them to continue living in ignorance, in such a country it was of course not an easy task to carry out our work. For we had not only to dam the wave of destruction, to preserve the works of art, but it was our task to reanimate the latter, t create living beauty out of mere museum specimens, so that the worker, unconsciously thirsting for beauty, might be refreshed.
It was our task to make of inaccessible castles and palaces, where dwelt the degenerate scions of once famous families - who had become bored with everything and no longer observed anything - public institutions, which, guarded with loving care, must provide hours of pleasure for numerous visitors. This was indeed a difficult task. The Commissariat for Public Instruction and its Section for the Protection of Historic and Art Monuments, is ready at any time to render account of its activities before civilized mankind, and, may confidently say that not only the international proletariat, which is the best part of this civilized humanity, but also every other honest man cannot withhold the tribute of respect to this immense achievement. Emphasis must be laid not only on individual cases of destruction - such might occur in any country, even in the most enlightened; but also on the fact that in a country which had be kept back in a stage of barbarism through a criminal government policy, these disturbances did not attain any great dimensions, but were transformed by the power of the government of workers and peasants into a well-organized possession of the people as a whole.
The Kremlin, October 23, 1919.
SOVIET RUSSIA August 28 1920
The Educational Work of Soviet Russia
(An Interview with Lunacharsky)
By W. McLaine
COMRADE LUNACHARSKY received us in his office in one of the Kremlin buildings, a building that at one time was a club for army officers. He bade us welcome and expressed his pleasure at our interest in the endeavours being made by Soviet Russia in the domain of education.
"Our first task," he began, "was the liquidation of illiteracy. Under the old regime only ten per cent of the population were literate, and by literate I mean able to read and write. We had before us a tremendous problem which had to be dealt with in a systematic fashion, if important results were to be obtained. We began in earnest, about the beginning of the year, when we separated the literates from the illiterates, and insisted upon compelling attendance at the elementary schools. The literates were mobilized and given a rapid course of instruction in teaching methods, based upon the American system of teaching from words rather than by means of formal grammar. Afterwards, these new teachers were given groups to teach.
"All literates have been called upon to attend evening schools for two months.
"By these methods, it is hoped that within three years, illiteracy will have been completely abolished. There have been certain important results already. For example, Petrograd, before the war, had a population of 1,600,000 with about half a million illiterates, now, with a population of between 800,000 and 900,000 there are no illiterates; Moscow had a million illiterates before and now has none. In the fleet, there were 25 per cent illiterates, and in the army there were but 15 per cent literates, but now in the combined services there are only about five to ten per cent who cannot read and write.
"However important it may be to give to adults some of the rudiments of education, the most important work is, of course, that of educating the children. We do not provide educational facilities for children under three years of age, but pay (special attention to those from three to eight, who come within our first educational category. Under the old system, there were practically no schools for children of these ages, except a few kindergartens for rich children, and a few charity schools for poor ones. Within the last two years we have organized and maintained 200,000 of these schools, and have taken over all the old places. For all these schools we required a great number of new teachers, and as our methods of teaching were not the same as the old methods, it sometimes meant that those who had formerly been teachers were not as good as our new teachers taken from the working-class intelligentsia. The latter are whole-hearted in their work, and they are free from the old professional prejudices.
"All education is free and nationalized. There are no private educational establishments. The state educates and maintains the children, providing breakfast, dinner, cloth for clothing, boots books, etc. Not all is done that we wish to do because of the desperate position we are in, but food — difficult though it is to obtain — is provided. The supply of clothing, etc., is not so satisfactory. During the past two years, we have provided 18,000,000 yards of cloth and 9,000,000 pairs of boots, but as there are 10,000,000 children it is obvious that we are not doing enough. Even our present work must end if the wars continue. We are terribly short of appliances for physical culture and for the ordinary educational work. We can only supply one pen point for every 150 children, one pencil for the same number, and one exercise book for every two pupils. The situation is really desperate. We have several factories making goods for us, but of course all these things used to be imported. Now the demand is infinitely greater and the supply has been stopped by the blockade. I do not know what we shall do."
These last sentences were spoken with such sadness that they revealed to us how deeply the handicaps imposed on educational work by the wars and the blockade were affecting the speaker.
"In Europe and America, there are elementary and secondary schools. The instruction provided in the first named leads to an educational cul-de-sac, and only the richer children are able to go further, but even their education is not what it should be. In Russia we have inaugurated what we call the "Single Labour School" through which) all children must pass.
"There are two stages in this school work, (1) for those between the ages of eight and twelve, and (2) for those from twelve to sixteen. Tremendous exertion has been necessary to put the scheme into operation. The peasants have been willing and eager to help. They have cut the wood, and helped to build the new schools, 11,000 of which have been furnished. There are still many for whom no schools have been provided, but we can say that 60 per cent of the children have a place to go to, and of course the towns have accommodations for almost all. It will take us seven years to build the real school buildings that we have planned.
"Schools suitable for our secondary scholars are not so plentiful, nor are the general facilities fully available. The old type secondary school was usually in the town area, and the workers lived outside the towns in the suburbs, so that our children are some distance away from these places, and have not yet got over the idea of associating them with snobbishness. To some extent we are getting around this by means of our school clubs, and it may be that in the future the club will so develop that it will become the school. At present our lack of means forces us to limit the entrance of scholars to these schools to those who are bright and capable. **
Two ideas run through our teaching methods. First, that the scholar shall acquire knowledge by practice as well as by being taught, and second, that there shall be no specialization. Our children from eight to twelve years of age, learn by play, by excursions, by the care of animals, by doing woodwork, bookbinding and so on. We insist upon the importance of self-reliance and self-aid, and we encourage the children to do their own work and assist in the management of the schools. By means of a system of orderlies, who work in rotation and do the work of the day, we inculcate the principles of order, cleanliness, and civic obligation. We teach them science through their play and experience.
"In our secondary schools, we work upon the polytechnic method, and instruct by labour. There is no attempt made to produce specialized workers but a body of people with general knowledge. Our object is to industrialize education, and make it a part of our productive system. To this end we have established metal and woodworking shops in the schools, and the scholars are taken to visit factories. This attempt is hindered somewhat by the backwardness of Russia's economic development, but it will improve. We now have our central technical schools with other schools grouped round them.
"Our backward industrial development makes for an over-emphasis of the aesthetic side of our work. We teach painting, drawing, and the like, not because we wish to produce a few fine painters but in order that children may be assisted to illustrate their ideas. Singing and music are taught, mainly because of the social value of music, and choirs are formed to enable this social aspect to work itself out. In our primary school music classes we simply arrange concerts and organize choirs, and then later, we pass on to the history and theory of music. Full attention is paid to the theatre, and theatres are established in all the schools. (Lessons in labour are taught by means of plays, and often the costumes and scenery for the play are made by the children.
"Of what I might call our negative reforms the two most important are, (1) education is entirely secular, and (2) there is no segregation of the sexes. When coeducation began there was a great protest, but all are now agreed that it works very successfully. *
"A very important phase of our work is the agricultural school. The old government did nothing to foster agricultural development, but we have recognized that Russia's prosperity depends mainly upon it, and we have opened schools in every village. Last autumn we conducted an intensified educational campaign, and this autumn we intend to hold another. Our experts visit the villages and train teachers in agricultural science, show the peasants how to use farm machinery, and instruct them in the newer methods of sowing and tending crops. Last year thousands attended these schools.
"Owing to the economic condition of the country we have had to make some concessions. Children fourteen years of age have to go to work, much as we regret it. However, they choose their own work, and a special Department of Technical Training has been created to watch over them. We have also been forced by facts to recognize that the standard of technical skill in Russia is low, and as soon as possible a general decree will be issued calling upon all workers between the ages of eighteen and forty to attend evening school for a five-month period of three and a half hours every evening. To assist them to do this, the hours of labour will reduced from eight to six. We are preparing 200 courses of training to be started almost at once, although fully 1,000 are needed. We hope to get ten per cent of good workmen from these courses, and they can instruct others. We must have more engineers because of the great need for intensified output. Professor Zomov has worked out a shortened course from which all non-essentials have been eliminated. We are arranging to recall from the army all students who have reached an advanced stage in their studies, and we shall provide maintenance — housing and food — for them. By autumn we expect to have ready 2,900 engineers — using the term in its widest sense, and including railway and civil engineers — and these will be as many as would have left the technical schools in the ordinary way.
"In our advanced educational work, we are meeting with many successes. In the University of Petrograd, we are working out problems connected with X-ray, radium, medicine (particularly stomach troubles), photography, mining (in relation to -die values of inferior coal), etc. Our universities all have a labour faculty which every boy or girl over 16 years of age may attend. Of course many of those who do attend have not a sufficiently high cultural development to profit by the regular curriculum, and so we have arranged preparatory courses for them. The Karl Marx University of Moscow has all its classes full and the attendance) is good. The students are keen, practical people, anxious to learn and not as before merely anxious to secure certificates admitting them to posts. The professors say their work is happier working with this new material. * We had to abolish the old faculty of political economy because the old views of the social sciences were not in keeping with the new social order. We have a new department, and we have 1,000 students who are studying Soviet construction and organization. These workers will — after their one year course — go back to their own districts and become administrators or workers in the local organizations. To assist in this department, every commissar lectures periodically on the work of his department. An English economist has told us that our students in these subjects are better than those elsewhere.
"We have opened libraries and reading-rooms everywhere, and a huge book fund has been collected to buy books. Owing to the scarcity of paper, we are obliged to concentrate our books in these public institutions. We have issued poetry, belles lettres and many scientific works. Most of our good printing used to be done in Germany and Estonia and of course we cannot import at present. Therefore nooks cannot be sold, but must be read in the libraries and schools.”*
“I must really deny the statement made in the American Press that our museums have been rifled. Probably the most brilliant aspect of the revolution is the way in which the palaces, museums and private collections have been safeguarded. In some of the remote country districts the peasants thought that when the squires had gone they could take the antiques and other treasures, and a little plundering went on, but it has been our special pride to take care of all the valuable collections throughout the country.** When the White troops came to Gatchina, the officer in charge called out to the curator of the museum, "Has it been plundered?" and the man took him inside to see tapestries which had been allowed to go moth-eaten in private houses, but which after the revolution had been removed to the museum to be preserved.
“We are not spending any time teaching domestic economy. Our view is that for the future we must concentrate on social and communal methods of cooking, feeding, and living so that the old methods are of no use to us.
"Our present difficulties make it hard for us to carry out some of our plans. Because of a shortage in cotton, for example, hundreds of textile mills are closed down and our skilled workers have gone back to the country where they will soon lose their skill. The country is always dragging us back to the old, and the town and the party are always working towards the new. We are trying to keep up the level of skill in the country districts by giving every encouragement to peasant art, and have opened many new schools of this kind.
"Yes, we have a great work in hand, we have done much during our period of government, but we have an enormous task before us. If we can get materials, appliances, books, etc., we can carry out our program, but it is very difficult to do without the things we need so much.
"Let me in conclusion again insist upon the two main ideas running through our 'Single Labour School System.' They are, self-aid, and the Industrialisation of education."
SOVIET RUSSIA January 1, 1921
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