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Title: The Commissariat of Education under Lunacharsky (1917-1921)
Author: Fitzpatrick, Sheila
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1969
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This thesis describes the establishment of the Commissariat of Education (Narkompros), the formation of its policies and their implementation. The study has two purposes. The first is to present an institutional history of the formation of a Soviet commissariat. The second is to examine the policies and organizational approaches of Narkompros towards education and the arts, as a major factor i# the establishment of relations between the Soviet government and the Russian intelligentsia. The original materials on which the thesis is based are the Narkompros files of the Central State Archives (TSGAOR and TSGA RSPSR) in Moscow. These consist largely of minutes and protocols of the collegium of Narkompros and some of its subordinate departments. Prom these materials, it is possible to reconstruct both the internal workings of Narkompros - its .organizational complexity and confusion, its financial difficulties, the relations between its members - and, to a considerable extent, its relations with other government and Party institutions. One of the problems interesting the author is the relationship of Narkompros with its superiors (VTSIK, Sovnarkom, the Central Committee, the Politburo), and the way in which these bodies influenced its policies and activities. It appears that interference from above was slight, except in times of crisis; and that at all times the proliferation of 'higher instances' made it relatively easy to evade unwelcome instructions from any one of them. In its relations with other commissariats and Vesenkha, Narkompros engaged in a series of demarcation disputes. These were often won on paper and according to the decision of Sovnarkom, but lost in practice because of Narkompros' weak economic position and lack of political influence. None of the leaders of Narkompros - Lunacharsky, Pokrovsky, Krupskaya and later Litkens - held influential positions in the Party. Narkompros 1 greatest political asset was Lenin's support, which (except on some artistic questions) was almost always given. The interest of other Party leaders in education and Narkompros was intermittent and, as regards Narkompros, not usually benevolent. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin and Preobrazhensky all, on occasion, attacked or opposed Narkompros - a relevant factor in the case of Zinoviev and Kamenev being that both had wives working in Narkompros (Lilina and Kameneva) who were at odds with the Narkompros leadership. Dzerzhinsky made one major intervention in educational affairs, when he removed a whole sphere of Narkompros activity (child welfare) to the effective control of the GPU. VTSIK, of which Lunacharsky was a member throughout this period, was normally sympathetic to Narkompros; but its support of Narkompros projects rarely yielded substantial results, because other bodies disregarded its recommendations. The same was true, although to a lesser extent, of Sovnarkom resolutions on Narkompros 1 behalf. The Central Committee of the Party considered educational questions less frequently than VTSIK or Sovnarkom, and intervened usually to chastise Narkompros. Narkompros was in name, and indeed in fact, the commissariat of enlightenment. Its educational policies were solidly "based on the most enlightened and progressive educational theories of the time. But the execution of these policies was enormously hindered by the hostility of the intelligentsia and the ignorance of the masses. They foundered in the confusion of the Civil War and economic crisis. The leaders of Narkompros believed in encouraging local, popular initiative in the organization of education. They made little attempt to create a strong centralized administration of education. For this reason, among others, few of Narkompros' educational policies were satisfactorily realized in practice. In dealing with cultural and educational institutions - the universities, the Academy of Sciences, the theatres, Proletkult - Narkompros found itself in something of a dilemma of principle. It was ready to give independence and administrative autonomy, "but only in return for some show of cooperation and sympathy with the Soviet government. The universities, though very anxious for autonomy, were overtly hostile to Narkompros and the government. The Academy of Sciences approached Narkompros courteously (although without any declarations of political loyalty), and retained a degree of autonomy which the universities were denied. Proletkult was at first allowed "both autonomy and government subsidy by Narkompros; but, in 1920, Lunacharsky was rebuked for overlooking the political dangers of Proletkult's independence. Lunacharsky was always insensitive to nuances of political relations between revolutionary socialist groups, and this brought him into conflict with Lenin on the Proletkult issue. In the sphere of literature and the arts, Narkompros - and Lunacharsky in particular - acted as intermediary between the government and the intelligentsia. It was an ungrateful task. Narkompros and Lunacharsky were frequently criticized in government and Party circles for 'softness' towards the intelligentsia. They approached the intelligentsia in a conciliatory spirit which was rarely reciprocated: the organized' intelligentsia in the universities, Union of the arts and Teachers' Union responded belligerently, -and with a certain undertone of contempt. In spite of this, Lunacharsky had some success in opening channels of communication between the arts and the government. This, rather than the organization of an 'administration' of the arts, - involving subordination to government control of persons and institutions which had been or wished to be independent of it - was his intention. His policy towards the arts was to tolerate and subsidize all groups showing a minimum of cooperation with Narkompros, and to avoid at all costs sponsoring any sort of artistic monopoly or 'official' art. This was a policy which would have appealed to the artistic left in the 1930s, but in this period it was greatly resented. The futurists and 'proletarian' artists, particularly those who were Communists or Communist sympathizers (including Mayakovsky and Meyerhold), did not want toleration but monopoly, and loudly reproached Lunacharsky for withholding it from them. Lunacharsky defended the principle of individual creative freedom; one of his opponents on the left (Kerzhentsev) suggested in reply that Communist writers and artists should be brought under 'Party discipline' in their work. In 1920-21, the leaders and policies of Narkompros suffered heavy criticism and were partially discredited. By the end of 1921, the achievements of Narkompros in the educational sphere had been largely destroyed "by the economic crisis and by the New Economic Policy, which removed the greater part of educational financing from the central budget. This double defeat of Narkompros raises the question of whether its policies and ideals were fundamentally incompatible with the general policies of the Party and the institutions of Soviet government. The thesis concludes that the economic situation contributed overwhelmingly to Narkompros' defeat; and that the educational system which Narkompros had tried to create was beyond the financial and organizational capacity of the Soviet republic to sustain. The political explanation of Narkompros' defeat is accepted in part. On the one hand, many influential members of the Party and government regarded the leaders of Narkompros with suspicion as, in Stalin's phrase, 'old literati' of the revolution. Narkompros remained civilian in outlook and permissively democratic in method, resistant to the enthusiasm for strict centralization and military discipline which had been generated by the Civil War.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Arts ; Education ; Soviet Union